Speaking during a debate on the termination of the government contract to Concentrix for Tax Credit investigations, a decision which will cost over 400 jobs in NI, I said that whilst we must all be concerned about the hardship and hurt caused by some of the decisions made to stop tax credit payments to some of the poorest people I believe it is unfair to set all the blame at the door of Concentrix and its workers.
The real culprit is HMRC and the complicated benefit which since its inception has been beset with problems.
I have been receiving complaints about HMRCs handling of this issue long before the Concentrix contract at a time when it was being dealt with in house.
Concentrix took referrals from HMRC, was given guidance how to deal with cases from HMRC and was subject to the caseload imposed by HMRC.
When complaints built up the company and its workers became the scapegoat.
The workers themselves have been treated scandalously and suffered as a result of hearing that they will lose their jobs through the media as the government scrambled to deflect criticism of its role in the mess which caused so hardship to thousands across the UK.
Ironically despite its claim that it was concerned about the level of service it seems that a few weeks before the government had been planning to extend the contract.
Unlike many who spoke in the debate I have no difficulty in outsourcing some aspects of the work of government departments. It can cut costs, introduce innovation and give flexibility but the terms of the contract must be clear, and the information provided to the contractors accurate. Also incentives which produce perverse outcomes must not be included. This was not the case in this contract.
My concern is that given the record of HMRC in the past, the objectives which it has in this exercise that even if it takes over the role of dealing with dodgy claims itself we will find that people still suffer unjustly and will have the same difficulties in getting that expensive injustice remedied.
Sammy Wilson, MP East Antrim