Cumbernauld Tax Office jobs spark #IndyRef war of words

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 18:07 on 24 August 2014.
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23-06-2014 - By Scott Campbell (+44) 0774 296 870 - PCS HMRC Cumbernauld strike, 23 June 2014; Sign by Tax Office entrance, on St. Mungo's Rd pedestrian path.
War of words over the future of HMRC's Cumbernauld site.                                                                                                                                                 Picture: Cumbernauld Media.

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CUMBERNAULD and Kilsyth’s Nationalist MSP has attacked the town’s Labour MP, claiming he let the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition “off the hook” on redundancies at the HMRC site in Cumbernauld, in a recent Parliamentary debate.

Jamie Hepburn, SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth lambasted Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East Labour MP, Gregg McClymont, after he “failed to hold the UK Government to account over job cuts at the Cumbernauld Tax Office”, during a debate in the House of Commons late last month.

MSP Hepburn said that, as a result of the austerity measures being imposed by the Westminster coalition government, nearly 40 jobs are under threat in the Post Room of the HMRC Tax Office in Cumbernauld - one of the largest employers for the town.

The Nationalist Member of Holyrood attacked Mr McClymont’s approach the debate on the future of the site last month, in the House of Commons, claiming “Mr McClymont chose to focus on the question of Scottish independence, making only one fleeting reference to the threatened local jobs.”

Mr Hepburn’s stinging assault on town MP Gregg McClymont came after the Labour MP secured a debate in the House of Commons on the future of HMRC Scotland – a debate which took place on July 22nd. 

Kicking off the debate, Mr McClymont, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East’s Labour MP said: “The future of HMRC jobs in Scotland is an issue close to my heart. It is hard to grow up and live in my constituency without developing personal connections with what is known locally simply as the tax office. A number of my friends and family have worked or work at HMRC Cumbernauld, and it is by some distance the largest employer in my constituency, currently employing about 1,400 staff working across the spectrum of tax, benefits, debt management and the like. It is the UK’s largest tax office. Hon. Members have doubtless at one time or another had communication with HMRC Cumbernauld—not, I hasten to add, because of anything untoward, but simply because that is where so many tax communications are sent from and to.”

The Labour man went on to discuss the question of independence – and the upcoming referendum, on September 18th – adding: “In 57 days, Scotland will make its decision on whether to remain in the United Kingdom with England, Wales and Northern Ireland or whether to leave, and Scots are weighing up a wide array of issues and interests as they come to a judgment on that decision. That is why every survey of Scottish public opinion illuminates the public’s desire for more information and facts on the issues in hand. Some things are, by definition, uncertain about what would happen if Scotland was to leave the United Kingdom—things that will depend on negotiations with the rest of the United Kingdom, which will depend on the future performance of the Scottish economy in particular.”

Mr McClymont said that “Scotland’s role in HMRC” is not uncertain, adding: “The arithmetical facts are these”, claiming that: “Across the UK, HMRC employs 70,000 people. More than 9,000 of those posts are in Scotland. In percentage terms, 13% of UK HMRC staff are in Scotland, a significantly above-population-share of the total. More than 3,000 more posts are allocated in Scotland than a population share would provide.”

“That is testimony to the excellent job that Scottish HMRC staff in Cumbernauld, in East Kilbride and elsewhere provide,” the Labour politician added. “It is hard to argue otherwise than that this indeed is a Scottish HMRC jobs dividend. Leaving the United Kingdom would bring to an end Scotland’s role in HMRC. That is surely uncontroversial—a fact, not an opinion.”

Pete Wishart, Perth and North Perthshire’s SNP MP was the first member to respond to Mr McClymont’s statement; he said: “I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, but is not his timing just a little bit unfortunate? The Westminster Government are actually closing HMRC offices as he is on his feet. I know he does not like Scottish independence and I know he does not like what the Scottish Government are doing, but can he grudgingly accept the fact that we are having no compulsory redundancies in Scotland, which would mean that HMRC staff would be much better treated in an independent Scotland than they would be by the Westminster Tories?”

MP McClymont responded to Mr Wishart’s remarks by claiming that “it is an arithmetical fact that Scotland has a significant dividend from UK HMRC jobs”, adding: “We know as a fact that Scotland has significantly more tax-collecting jobs relative to the UK as a whole. Is there any reason to imagine that an independent Scottish state would need those surplus tax-collecting jobs relative to the size of the UK tax-collecting system? It seems to me that it is hard to imagine why that would be the case. The jobs dividend in Scotland regarding HMRC posts does not reflect different Scottish conditions regarding tax collection, but simply historical decisions and the excellent work undertaken by the Scottish tax office staff.”

Commenting on the exchange, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth SNP MSP, Jamie Hepburn said the comments made by Mr McClymont were “remarkable”, and added his criticism that Mr McClymont chose to focus on independence rather than “Tory cuts [which] are threating 40 local posts”.

Mr Hepburn said: “Having secured a debate on job security at the Tax Office at a time when the Tory cuts are threating 40 local posts I find it remarkable that Mr McClymont chose to focus on anything else in his contribution.  

“As the independence debate goes on, we have become used to various Labour figures teaming up with their Tory pay masters in the No campaign to ridicule the idea of Scotland standing on its own two feet.

“However I would have hoped that at a Commons debate on the HMRC in Scotland at a time of local job cuts he could have made the case to save these jobs and held the Tories accountable for their cuts.

“Not only is Mr McClymont campaigning to preserve the system which has given Scotland yet another Tory government we did not vote for but he is now actively letting them off the hook in parliament.

“He must surely recognise that the Scottish Government has clearly committed to seeing those civil servants based in Scotland and working for the UK government – like those at HMRC Cumbernauld – transferred to its employment in an independent Scotland.

“Such workers would then stand to benefit from the Scottish Government’s no compulsory redundancies policy and its commitment to paying all those who work for it at least the living wage.

“Therefore it is completely disingenuous to pretend that the uncertainty those employed at the Tax Office face is related to a yes vote. The cuts to these jobs have come from successive UK Governments, both Labour and Tory.

“This was a wasted opportunity. Mr McClymont’s opposition to independence is getting in the way of standing up for local jobs.”

Page 122 of ‘Scotland’s Future’ – the manifesto for how an independent Scotland might look, according to the Scottish Government – lays claim that: “…the Scottish Government proposes a transitional period during which the current functions of HMRC are continued in Scotland and the rest of the UK on a shared services basis126. Taxpayers will therefore see no immediate change to their current arrangements for paying tax on independence. However, the initial improvements to the system will be in place within the period of the first independent parliament.”

The so-called ‘guide to independence’, adds – on page 364 – “The structure of public services under independence will be for future Scottish governments and parliaments to decide. The current Scottish Government’s plans for the Parliamentary term beginning in May 2016 would be to… establish a citizen-focused personal tax system, with staff transferring from HMRC to provide the necessary skills and capacity within Revenue Scotland”.

John Miller, PCS Cumbernauld Revenue & Customs Office Secretary described the debate – and Mr McClymont’s speech – as “regrettable”.

Commenting, Mr Miller said: “It is regrettable that our local MP is unable to reply to our branch`s questions on job security, privatisation, pay and pensions etc., submitted to him over two months ago yet he freely uses the Houses of Parliament to make his own political points for his own particular agenda. 

“PCS members in the `tax office` post room would like answers from Mr McClymont on their future with the threat of losing their jobs by March 2015. With a UK General Election scheduled for the following May there are no promises that can be made by Mr McClymont and his party for the security of employment for any HMRC staff simply because they are committed to carry out the austerity measures laid out by the current incumbent Tory/Lib Dem coalition which includes a cut of over 18,000 jobs by 2019.”
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