Job fears as HMRC confirms plans to close 137 offices
HM Revenue and Customs is planning to close 137 offices under a modernisation programme.
A total of 13 new regional centres will be opened over the next five years.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said the cuts would pose a "significant threat" to the operation of HMRC as well as to the working lives of staff.
The union called for full public and parliamentary scrutiny of the decision.
HMRC said its modernisation programme includes investment in new online and other services to make it easier for people to pay their tax.
Lin Homer, HMRC's chief executive, said: "HMRC is committed to modern, regional centres serving every region and nation in the UK, with skilled and varied jobs and development opportunities, while also ensuring jobs are spread throughout the UK and not concentrated in the capital.
"HMRC has too many expensive, isolated and outdated offices.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.
"The new regional centres will bring our staff together in more modern and cost-effective buildings in areas with lower rents. They will also make a big contribution to the cities where they are based, providing high-quality, skilled jobs and supporting the Government's commitment for a national recovery that benefits all parts of the UK."
HMRC said the majority of staff will move to the new regional centres.
There are around 58,000 employees spread over 170 offices across the country, ranging in size from 6,000 staff to fewer than 10.
Employees will be brought together in 13 large regional centres, with moves phased in over 10 years to minimise redundancies.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "No-one should be in any doubt that, if implemented, these proposals would be absolutely devastating for HMRC and the people who work there.
"Closing this many offices would pose a significant threat to the operation of HMRC, its service to the public and the working lives of staff, and the need for parliamentary scrutiny of the plans is undeniable and urgent."
Frank Haskew, of chartered accountants' body the ICAEW, said: "This restructuring will place yet more pressure on an organisation that is not delivering the level of service taxpayers have a right to expect.
"Service standards are deteriorating with taxpayers having to spend longer and longer on the phone trying to get through or waiting for their letters to be answered.
"The UK tax system is already struggling to cope with the demands being placed on it. Our tax code is overly complex and places a significant regulatory and compliance burden particularly on small businesses whose focus should be on contributing to economic growth.
"HMRC should have access to the resources it needs to provide an efficient and effective tax system as this underpins strong tax compliance. We shouldn't under-estimate the disruption that this restructuring will have on HMRC and the distraction it will cause to its leadership as they seek to implement it.
"Given the challenge of improving service standards and closing the tax gap, we are concerned that this is the wrong time to be reorganising, closing offices and cutting staff."
Seema Malhotra, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: "Everyone knows that fewer tax specialists and fewer offices will only undermine HMRC's ability to get those who seek to evade and avoid paying their fair share, and only increases the burden on those doing the right thing and paying their tax.
"These cuts will further pile on the pressure at HMRC to collect taxes and deal with the consequences of the Tories' tax credit cuts.
"This will further strain on the millions of small and medium-sized British companies without their own major tax departments, who do want to pay their fair share of tax but are increasingly frustrated about how long and how much effort it takes them to do so."
HMRC said it will move work out of central London, which has some of the world's most expensive office space, leading to "substantial" savings.
The smallest of the new regional centres will employ 1,200 to 1,300 full-time equivalent members of staff and the largest will have more than 6,000.
The 13 new regional centres will be:
:: North East - Newcastle
:: North West - Manchester and Liverpool
:: Yorkshire and the Humber - Leeds
:: East Midlands - Nottingham
:: West Midlands - Birmingham
:: Wales - Cardiff
:: Northern Ireland - Belfast
:: Scotland - Glasgow and Edinburgh
:: South West - Bristol
:: London, South East and East of England - Stratford and Croydon.
John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Our members have repeatedly told us about difficulties getting practical help from HMRC when complying with their tax requirements. The current online offering is limited, often hampered by poor broadband connectivity, and the phone help line is hard to navigate with long waiting times.
"Over the long-term, this modernisation programme must bring substantial benefits and efficiency savings. In the short-term however, members will be concerned that the closure of these tax offices will simply compound existing problems."