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Treasury Committees and PACs

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Treasury Select Committee


CEO Jon Thompson and Executive Chair Edward Troup appeared before the TSC. The full transcript is here:


The quote of the day: Edward Troup:  These are still known unknowns


Of the many points covered in the appearance one of great interest to RCTU was the following admissions:


Q49   Stephen Hammond:  Good afternoon, gentlemen.  Mr Thompson, when the Chairman invited you to give your reflections on your first 10 weeks, I think I heard you say that you had an organisation where the staff were happy to work and proud to work for it.  How do you reconcile that with the national survey done by the Civil Service at the end of last year, which showed that 27% of your staff were hoping to leave within the next year, and what are you doing to change that?

Jon Thompson:  That is an excellent question, if I may say so.  I have done 20 staff visits in 10 weeks.  I have probably met more than 3,000 members of staff so far.  We have both travelled very widely across the United Kingdom.  I generally find our teams are very proud of what they are doing.  They are very proud to demonstrate what they are doing.  They generally are very positive about their immediate team leader.  The staff survey results say there is very little trust in the senior leadership of the organisation, which is manifest mostly in the two of us.  We have deliberately set out on a strategy of engaging people as much as possible, travelling widely, listening as much as possible to the concerns of staff, and then trying to respond to the issues that they have got. 

I am still not satisfied we have got to the bottom of that question, because it is concerning.  People you meet are happy, like doing it, proud of it, but somehow, when they fill in that staff survey, they say they do not like HMRC.  That is a concern for us.  I think the best thing for us to do is continue to travel widely and listen to people’s concerns, and then try to address the

Q51   Stephen Hammond:  Maybe we will be able to ask you whether the new leadership has made such as difference that people are now happy. 

Jon Thompson:  We have deliberately tried to be as open and transparent as possible.  We both blog on a regular basis.  We both travel widely.  There were 78,000 responses to my first blog.  That is more than the number of staff; we are not quite sure how exactly that worked.  We are saying, “We are here; we are the leadership; we are open; we want to listen.  We are listening and trying to make a difference”.  I think I have a decent handle on the top two things people are concerned about: the performance management system and the technology offer we give them.  We are rolling out new technology across the whole of the estate, so we think we should be able to solve that, and we are looking at the performance management system, which people regard as a sort of totemic thing.  They really do not like it, and we are listening very carefully to what we can do about it.

In order:


They are very proud to demonstrate what they are doing: Yes we are – we know the value of what we do for the UK.


The staff survey results say there is very little trust in the senior leadership of the organisation: Correct as much as it is stated again and again “they are listening” – there is no evidence staff are being heard.


they say they do not like HMRC: It is the direction of travel that mystifies the staff when clearly there are risks ( these were commented on but not detailed as the questioning moved on) which are not listened to when staff try to explain provided they feel “safe to challenge”. Certainly the “perfect storm” is upon us earlier than predicted but it is here.


I think I have a decent handle on the top two things people are concerned about: the performance management system and the technology offer we give them: They are two of things that do concern staff but the top 2 ? What we find time and again is that the staff clearly cannot do the job they want to do, need to do and should do for a number of reasons. Yes the PM system is not working and every pitfall in that was clearly flagged years ago and has been repeatedly stated on this website. The “trial” at the VOA is the change that is coming without the need to “repeal” the system.


There needs to be a real dialogue between staff representatives and senior leaders.


Public Accounts Committee


And Monday the 13th brought:


The admission that service was not what it should have been but is “getting better” is hardly a surprise to us. Warnings were repeatedly issued about this over many years. Offices closed and staff left the Department. We are now hiring new staff to replace those made redundant. Is it getting better? Only the public can answer that but we have an opinion.


The synergy between this particular episode here and the strategic direction as outlined now and for the next few years is frighteningly similar.


If one takes the overriding premise that the Government want fewer locations for the Civil Service as the main driver for change all this shows is HMRC have failed comprehensively to argue the case for Location Specific work. Why? Because it is totally apparent to the workers that they fail to understand the work and computers will not solve everything. There is of course more in this but that is for a direct conversation with the employer. Easy therefore to see why the results as they are in the annual staff survey.


What is patently clear is that there is a very real need for senior leaders to be accountable with those who actually understand and undertake the work – only the RCTU can do that on your behalf. Directed by you and for your vital work on behalf of the UK.




The news that the budget for the VOA has still to be completely settled is causing concern. Obviously the need to adapt and move into “new ways of working” and become “multi skilled” as a way of stretching an insufficient budget has ramifications for work stress levels and grading structures. There is real concern that the VOA budget cut could be as much as 30% and the possible consequences on staffing levels that result from that are unknown. The extension of TOM is predicted.


The “trial” of the new Performance Management system is still due to happen but there appears to be a lack of detail and forms. The lack of detail is what has concerned the RCTU from the very first statement that a “trial” would happen.



Personal Representation


The RCTU has been actively engaged in a number of cases of personal representation of members. We have been successful in defending our members against many actions of the employer which have been proved to be incorrect in application or deed. One of the most concerning though has been the rise in what we consider the misuse of the Grievance procedures by members of staff who we believe have been ill-advised.


Many managers are faced with difficult decisions and in some cases the current systems in HMRC do not allow the correct latitude for some decision making by front line managers (or that they are in certain directorate commands where only the harshest interpretation is “encouraged”) and so , naturally , this can cause friction between the staff member and the manager. We have recently seen cases where the staff member was advised to submit a grievance based on bullying and harassment against the manager when in reality there was a need for more informal procedures to resolve the difference of actions and impact.


Too many staff members are advised by their representative to submit grievances based on bullying and harassment and it is notable that when the Grievance Test is then applied – the issue passes this Test and not examined on the grounds that it is injudicious – but that it is a bullying and harassment allegation. This makes a mockery of the Test and means that the issue is now in the formal process which brings strain and stress to all parties. The outcome in these that we have been involved in defending our members has been the dismissal of the grievance regarding bullying and harassment - as it clearly not bullying and harassment. We are deeply concerned in these circumstances for our members who face incorrect allegations and also for the staff member who was advised to make such an allegation.


What this means is that there needs to be a complete review of the Grievance Test procedures. Not only that but it is time to start a comprehensive look at how all too often front line managers face such extreme pressures and inflexible senior management meaning that circumstances can come about that cause discord (the refrain that managers are paid to enforce senior leader’s decisions and it is their job is akin to the ostrich with the head in the sand saying “charge”). We also call upon other representatives to stop this action against colleagues and recognise the true interests of all involved and help to resolve conflicting points of view and not exacerbate them.



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