HMRC launches radical tax shake-up across province

Criticism of closures but overall numbers employed in sevice could rise while Custom House could be sold
Criticism of closures but overall numbers employed in sevice could rise while Custom House could be sold

Ten HMRC offices will close in Northern Ireland, with services centralised in Belfast, as part of UK-wide modernisation plans.

Facilities in Newry, Coleraine, Craigavon, Enniskillen, Lisburn and Londonderry will shut with four offices in Belfast- including Custom House - in the period 2016 to 2021.

However, Ulster born Jim Harra who now heads up the national business tax division, said the the re-organisation could lead to an increase in overall employment here from around 1,100 at present to between 1,300 and 1,600.

Visiting Northern Ireland as part of the announcement programme, he said it was likely that the historic Custom House building in Belfast city centre could become “available for other uses”.

Staff and services are being centralised in a new regional centre in Belfast, the exact location of which is subject to negotiations but has yet to be made public.

HMRC said in situations where staff were unable to relocate it would do “everything it reasonably can” to help them to find new roles, either elsewhere in the civil service or outside it.

Lin Homer, HMRC’s Chief Executive, said: “The new regional centre in Belfast will bring our staff together in more modern and cost-effective buildings in an area with lower rent.

It will also make a big contribution to the economy of Northern Ireland providing high-quality, skilled jobs and supporting the Government’s commitment to a national recovery that benefits all parts of the UK.”

Foyle MP Mark Durkan, whose constituency is served by the Derry facility, criticised the decision to close local tax offices.

“Yet again we have a move which shows contempt for good staff, for local customers and for the regional economy,” said the SDLP representative.

“Treasury Ministers need to listen not just to the valid concerns and grievances from people here but also to the questions raised by many reports about the performance capacity of the Revenue & Customs service being strategically diminished.

“Ministers are presiding over an approach which is shrinking public employment, damaging public service and compromising public finances for the future.”

Ulster Unionist MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Tom Elliott, whose constituents use the Enniskillen office, said he was “furious” at the move.

“It is now two years since HMRC announced a voluntary exit scheme, at the time I and others warned that this was the beginning of the end for a number of HMRC offices, unfortunately we have been proved correct,” he said.

“Sadly today’s announcement will result with the closure of offices in Newry, Coleraine, Craigavon, Enniskillen, Lisburn and Londonderry during the next six years, leaving a centralised office service in Belfast.

“This is a major concern, particularly in the west of the province, where this will leave a huge gap in HMRC front line customer service provision. I have received several complaints in recent weeks about the lack of customer service support, with helpline calls not being answered.

“This decision will certainly not help local businesses and the wider public.

“There appears to be a gradual removal of public sector services away from Fermanagh.

“This would be a double blow to the area - the loss of jobs and the loss of front line customer services.

“I have spoken to a HMRC representative today and intend on making further representations, including to the Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer.”