Redundancies fear as 10 regional offices to close in HMRC shake-up
Plans to close 10 tax offices in Northern Ireland has sparked fears of major job losses.
The closures will be over a period of three years as HM Revenue and Customs chiefs plan to move staff into new modernised centres.
Offices will be closed in Newry, Coleraine, Craigavon, Enniskillen, Lisburn and Londonderry, leaving a centralised office service in Belfast.
HMRC staff could be forced to travel more than 160 miles a day following the decision to rubberstamp the scheme and move employees to the city.
While the move has attracted criticism, a HMRC spokesperson said there will be as few redundancies as possible.
The tax collection agency expects between 1,300 and 1,600 full-time equivalent employees to work in the Belfast regional centre.
Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott said he is "furious" at the decision to close all regional offices, particularly at a time when HMRC faces criticism of its call centres.
The MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone said: "It is now two years since HMRC announced a voluntary exit scheme. At the time I and others warned that this was the beginning of the end for a number of HMRC offices.
"Unfortunately we have been proved correct.
"This is a major concern, particularly in the west of the province, where this will leave a huge gap in HMRC front line customer service provision."
Foyle MP Mark Durkan, whose constituency is served by the Derry facility, criticised the decision to close local tax offices. "Yet again we have a move which shows contempt for good staff, for local customers and for the regional economy," said the SDLP representative.
"Treasury ministers need to listen not just to the valid concerns and grievances from people here, but also to the questions raised by many reports about the performance capacity of the Revenue & Customs service being strategically diminished."
Revenue and Customs said the closures are the next step in its 10-year modernisation programme to create a "tax authority fit for the future".
Lin Homer, HMRC's chief executive, said: "HMRC has too many expensive, isolated and outdated offices.
"This makes it difficult for us to collaborate, modernise our ways of working, and make the changes we need to transform our service to customers and clamp down further on the minority who try to cheat the system."
She said the new centre "will make a big contribution to the economy of Northern Ireland providing high-quality, skilled jobs."