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R&C TRADE UNION - PROTECTING REVENUE AND CUSTOMS MEMBERS AT WORK AND HOME

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General News - July 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

 

In this NEWS update:

Espritde corps

Compliance Plans

Pay

ArtificialIntelligence?

Annual Report 

EDC - Where has it gone?

The esprit de corps that staff knew and felt has completely vanished. Or has it? In pockets (and unfortunately silos) it still exists but only to the team or perhaps even the wider BUH command. Where once it stood for the whole Department – whether this was the antecedent bodies or HMRC – now it is marginal or completely non-existent.

Why has this happened? Firstly, the exaggerated multitude of directorates that came about with the advent of HMRC set the stage. From there the changes have never stopped but the protestations that structures are “customer focused” ring somewhat hollow when the general perception of those who actually carry out the job see these as more vehicles for senior management posts rather than the efficacious operation of the Department. It is a truism that recent changes have reinforced this perception rather than addressed it.

This fragmentation has severely impacted on the esprit de corps and coupled with the severe degradation of terms and conditions of service, in the round, these have produced a toxic mix. Of course, we all hear much of “staff engagement” – and the esprit de corps is actually at the heart of this term – but the reality remains that loyalty is confined to one’s immediate friends and colleagues, as it should be of course, but not to the wider organisation.

Much is being made of the new regional centres and their space for “collaboration” but the BoF changes announced recently and with more to come this month - the disengagement of staff continues. It is perhaps wishful to think that the new regional centres will address this core problem but with the target culture there remains a number of impediments. The Department makes much of the need to value the service of all staff and is, correctly, making public statements of the value of and respect for staff unable to transfer to the new regional centres. Of course, and as we have said many times, the case for regional centres is tenuous and this has been proved to be the case via the recent reports of the PAC and NAO.

Taken together there are several factors that reduce and impact on the esprit de corps required of any organisation like HMRC – it is no too late but time is rapidly running out to make a difference. We in the RCTU want to engage with HMRC leaders to make sure they actually do something that the vast majority of staff want – revive the esprit de corps. The benefits are enormous to all.

When staff continually say “I cannot wait to leave” and these are those who really make the difference to outcomes and results (please – we know how yield is counted and so do the staff involved) – you have an organisation that needs to recognise things are nowhere near as rosy as painted. We will make sure things change and that your voice is heard.

 

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Compliance Plans

Hopefully all staff have had a chance to read the HMRC plans recently published but the main feedback we have had revolves around the 21-page Compliance Plan.

Obviously, we will not be commenting on any detail about this plan in this forum but the comments we have had range from “what wishful thinking” to “there are elements that make some degree of sense”. What has galled every member who has commented is the looming crisis, as they see it, of the planned huge reduction in staff. Not one comment we received could see the value in this even if the “wishful thinking” actually worked – which would be miraculous and a first!

We mentioned in a recent article the subject of productivity. That must lie at the heart of the plan. If one measures that by the “one to many” concept then such data can be evidence of, and described as, a success. To be fair that does have a part to play but even with this and even with “AI” (see below) the human value cannot be ignored. One to many involves non F2F and frankly we cannot see how tax evaders will be caught even with the best tools available or being dreamt of – it shows increased productivity but lower actual yield and lower hit rate. The employer has ideas to address the lack of F2F and “local” contact but from what we know of these; they are impractical and in our view farcical.

The current tools we have such as the case handling system you all know and love are ponderous and time consuming and were meant to be replaced – they have been “enhanced” to the degree that take even more valuable time to complete for very little worth and have dramatically reduced case productivity (it does depend on who you talk to but it is still a system that is not a productivity enhancer). Couple that with onerous and petty instructions and our front-line staff face stress with little case satisfaction. This must change.

So, reducing staff at the front-line covered by “wishful thinking” and those “damn statistics” appears at best incorrect and at worst the silliest idea since King Canute and the sea. Stop now and listen to the staff who actually carry out the work. Until then we remain on that collision course with the iceberg.

 

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Pay

This was written days before the announcement of the pay “award” – we felt it appropriate to leave it in this article before then commenting on the “award”  itself which also enabled us to incorporate member’s comments.

While it has been “refreshing” to hear the recent calls to scrap the 1% limit and to hear from other public-sector unions of the pay detriments their members have suffered, notably in the NHS, it is clear at the time of writing that this will be considered on a “case by case” basis. We have argued previously here in this forum that staff in HMRC have suffered pay detriments since 2007. These have been exacerbated by stalled pay spines, pay freezes, pension changes, the lack of governance over grading and the 1% limit. This means that even with the increase in the personal tax allowance in this period we have staff taking home LESS pay than they did in 2007. This is before adding in inflation in this period. We are approaching the 30% pay cut in real terms for many staff.

We have previously noted that HMRC has been able to make a case even under the current Treasury pay guidance for an increase above 1% for the staff. It has failed to do so. HMRC tell staff they have done fantastic work in bringing in and increasing the monies for the UK. The case can and must be made. Why has this not happened?

The time is NOW.

The “award”.

Yet again the palpable anger was visible from all members of staff both in the on-line forum comments which generated a comment from the Chief People Officer ending the comment section that “ExComm recognised the concerns of staff and were communicating that to the Treasury” (we paraphrase slightly) and comments made directly to us. That being the case and with a “record year for HMRC in the Annual Report” (of which more later in this article) why was the case not made for a substantial increase? One is forced to conclude that as we are “overpaid” and with such a “premium” from our pensions we should be happy with our lot. It would therefore not be a successful exercise for a case being made to the Treasury by HMRC if we are being realistic but nevertheless …. Let us look at the real facts.

  • Most staff take home pay is LESS than 10 years ago – real pay cuts
  • Pension contributions have increased by 50% or more
  • The pension “premium” is over 50% less than it was
  • The pension has been the saving grace for successive below inflation pay “awards” over decades – yes decades and that “premium” has been eroded by changes to the schemes that should have been challenged legally in the ECJ
  • Compared to similar jobs in the private sector we are underpaid

In a successful private sector comparator with results of the business being so wonderful – there would have been significant rewards for staff (we are NOT advocating privatisation as that is utterly inimical with the ethos of what staff do for the UK)

We accept that with the poor remit the “award” is probably the best it could be in the circumstances but the remit itself is wrong. We advocate continued pressure on both HMRC and the Treasury to recognise the value of HMRC staff, not through the words “well done”, but rather with action to stop this erosion of pay.

Enough is really enough.

Postscript: It was very noticeable that after the “award” was published a plethora of news articles were published – more than the average and we are forced to conclude this was to drive the story away and down from the main news articles staff accessed in the Intranet Newsroom. The juxtaposition with the Annual Report so soon after the “award” and the deep irony was not lost of staff either. “Bury bad news”? Manipulation of staff? Absolutely not…

 

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Artificial Intelligence?

And …..we bring you AI.

HMRC’s interim chief digital and transformation officer Mike Potter has spoken at a recent public forum of the plans that were being conducted with the aim to “take the graft out of people’s jobs” so they could “focus on higher value work” (“Hmmm” – said the RCTU website editor). The trials will be launched “in the near future”. HMRC “need to talk to staff” he said. However, what was mentioned were:

  • AI to direct people to the right places or information without human intervention;
  • Casework, where AI would be used to enhance decision-making;
  • Prompts to assist taxpayers with effective self-service.

Needless to say, experts in this field (of AI) remain highly sceptical AI actually exists and staff will be concerned. Directing and prompting may be feasible for simple actions and tasks as is already in evidence in some public facing systems but the nuances of casework are far beyond current or even planned technology. We are left to wonder how this links with the aim of reducing caseworkers.

Recently a retired member told us of a conversation with some members of the public in a public house – naturally. He admitted he used to work for HMRC. As so often happens    people talked freely when they knew he had retired – the scale of evasion even took him aback and what really concerned him was the repeated talk that everyone knew HMRC would never ever find them and how endemic this was. It mainly revolved around lack of F2F contact and how easy it was to fool a “letter”. Food for thought using that AI?

Only the RCTU has the experience and evidence to stop these headlong rushes to who knows where.

 

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Annual Report

 

There is no need to recount the statistics. There is no need to repeat the comments of staff. We know the truth and the emperor remains to be clothed. We are in the toxic mix we have espoused in the past on this website.

It is impossible to comment further in this forum for obvious reasons but suffice to say we want to have a real and proper dialogue with HMRC about the results and the concerns of members. Until we do there remains the distinct possibility that HMRC is “not all it should be”.

The announcement that Making Tax Digital is to be delayed until 2020 for all taxes other than VAT has to be seen in the context of outputs of HMRC, Treasury settlements for Building our Future and planned staff reductions. We can see why this has happened and the need to discuss this, AI and, well, everything in the correct context. Where is the proper debate about this?

Only HMRC staff can change the current situation and we are waiting your instructions to do so on your behalf.

 

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