With only 90 days to go before a likely no-deal Brexit, PCS meets with the HMRC EU Exit Workforce Planning Team, which fails to answer even the simplest policy questions.
Not a good start
After a number of cancelled meetings, HMRC wrote to us asking for subject to discuss at a meeting scheduled for 31 July. Our previous ‘Brexit workforce planning’ meetings had been limited to half an hour, with an ever-changing cast on management side; and a two-page ‘PowerPoint’ presentation, simply highlighting that extra staff were being recruited and in which line of business they were going to be posted. There have been no details supplied about how the policies and procedures of the country’s tax and duty collecting body will need to change, if we suddenly crash out of a tariff-free single market and customs union.
PCS responded that, with just three months to go before a likely no-deal Brexit, we wanted management to provide us with process maps and procedures showing how the department will discharge its tax and duty collecting responsibilities. The department’s Director of EU Transition replied that the EU Exit meeting wasn’t the forum to discuss changes required after we exit the EU, so PCS wrote again to say that when we meet we will expect to be informed regarding who we do need to speak to get those questions answered.
Having singularly failed to get a straight answer from the Head of EU Transition, at the 31 July meeting, PCS asked three simple questions:
- Does the department intend to collect VAT Import Duty?
- Does the department intend to check the freight lorries as they roll-off the ferries?
- How does the department plan to operate at the border, particularly the one land border with the EU in Ireland; and the sea borders in Wales and on the South and East Coasts?
The department responded that they couldn’t answer any of these questions, as they were all ‘technical’. PCS made it clear that knowledge of whether or not we plan to undertake fundamental tax and duty work, is a precursor to the department determining how many staff they need; so it’s impossible to believe that what is effectively an EU workforce planning meeting, can’t tell us whether or not, post-Brexit, PCS members would be collecting duties or checking lorries.
The department tried to claim that these discussions were taking place with unions at ‘line of business’ level, but we responded that we hadn’t been provided with such in-depth information; and one of our negotiators at the meeting – who leads for PCS on a key ‘line of business’ – confirmed that no such discussions had taken place in his area.
In the meeting, the department reminded PCS that ‘they had told PCS in January, February and March that HMRC are fully prepared for no-deal.’ We responded that if that’s really the case, and they’ve had plans in place for at least the last five months, they should have no problem with answering our simple questions. These aren’t ‘technical questions’, they’re fundamental questions about the work that HMRC either will or won’t be doing, and if they are, where they’ll be doing it.
It’s now being reported by the BBC that the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, “has written to HM Revenue and Customs, telling it to make preparing for a no-deal Brexit its "absolute top priority".
After more than two years of writing to the department with detailed questions, only to be on the receiving end of vague answers such as ‘our functions will be intelligence–led’ and there’ll be ‘a technology-based solution to the border issue’; with some 90 days to go before the government takes us out of the tariff-free single market and customs union, potentially putting a nuclear device at the heart of the UK’s economy, PCS have seen absolutely nothing to indicate that HMRC have any sort of plan; and when the department’s EU Transition team can’t answer basic questions about whether or not we’ll collect key Import Duties, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that HMRC are still staring at that nuclear device and just hoping it doesn’t go off.
Let’s not forget, against this chaotic backdrop, HMRC is still charging ahead with its office closure plans, including closing critical offices located near the borders, ports and airports.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the work done by PCS members in HMRC will be especially critical and the industrial leverage we will have will be at a level unseen since the run-up to the 2012 Olympics - when following a dispute with the Home Office, our PCS colleagues in the Border Force secured hundreds of additional jobs.