One hundred staff fear for their jobs at tax centre

Ocean House, St Leonards
Ocean House, St Leonards

ONE hundred civil servants could lose their jobs as the future of the HM Revenue and Customs office (HMRC) at Ocean House hangs in the balance.

The St Leonards office in London Road has been identified as one of 14 offices not guaranteed to remain open beyond 2015 following the HMRC 2013 spending review.

In order to cut costs, HMRC will reduce in size in the coming years, with fewer people working from fewer locations.

At Ocean House a programme of voluntary redundancies was announced last week, and while there has been no official confirmation that the St Leonards office will close, it has been identified as one that does not fit the medium to long-term plans for HMRC.

John McIver, PCS union representative, said that job losses would spell bad news for the economy of Hastings and St Leonards.

“This closure of the tax office would have devastating consequences for the area, and be a further erosion of public services available to local residents,” he said.

Mr McIver welcomed the intervention of Hastings MP Amber Rudd who said that she was taking up the issue with David Gauke MP, the minister responsible for HMRC.

She said: “I am absolutely committed to fighting for every job in Hastings. I will take a counter proposal to HMRC to ask that instead of reducing the Ocean House facility they consider us for one of their enlarged ones in the new re-organisation.

“I believe that we should make Hastings a centre of excellence, we have skilled trained staff, and I will put this case to the minister.

“I have already spoken to the minister to tell him that I will oppose the downgrading of the Ocean House centre and I am now going to put a more formal objection and proposal to him.”

Back in 2006, there were fears that the office at Ocean House may close amid HMRC plans to reorganise jobs across the country, though at that time the threats were not realised.

Leader of Hastings Borough Council Jeremy Birch said: “I am very unhappy with the threatened loss of jobs at Ocean House. These are dedicated to staff working for the public good - we can’t afford to lose jobs in Hastings and I would have thought the Chancellor can’t afford the risk of not collecting in taxes that are due.”

An HMRC spokesman said: “An increasing number of customers are choosing to do business with us through our online services, which has reduced our need for physical sites.

“This change has seen the nature of our work shift away from mass-processing work of the past to more specialist, but less labour-intensive, roles required in effective policing of the tax system.

“As a result, some areas of our work do not require as many staff, so we are offering targeted voluntary exits to staff in St Leonards-on-Sea.”

A question mark also hangs over the local enquiry centre, also based at Ocean House, which employs eight people, and which Mr McIver said provides a vital public service, for people who need help with their tax and benefits.

A pilot scheme being tested in the north of England, in which the majority of enquiries will be dealt with via a telephone call centre, could be rolled out nationally. A final decision on this is due to be made in January 2014.