Conference, I want to start off by saying how proud and privileged I am to have been elected to a third term as HMRC group president.
Representing our members is always an honour and I pay tribute to all of the reps here this week, using their own time to take part in our unions democratic processes. The debates that we will have this week will set policy to develop our response to an unprecedented programme of change that we now know will set the template for the civil service as a whole. PCS has consistently argued that the hub model that will take our department away from the communities it serves, tear jobs away from local economies that need investment undermines the ability of the department to deliver customer service and close the tax gap.
The publication of the NAO report into the estates strategy, followed by a Public Accounts Committee investigation whose findings echoed our criticism of the rationale behind BOF gives us a strong platform to continue to challenge this damaging strategy from, whatever the outcome on 8 June. We will continue to work hard to support members in sites that are closing, but a new set of challenges will now face us as the first regional centres open. Many delegates will have had a glimpse of that future on their way to this conference, passing 1 Ruskin Square as they came through Croydon. These centres bring with them a new set of threats around work patterns, working environment and, for us, the challenge of organising.
Over the last year we have shown that our union can fight and win – I would like to pay tribute to the ISS cleaners who have fought and won their campaign against the disgraceful decision to pay for the rise on the minimum wage by cutting their hours – expecting the same work for the same pay done in less time.
I would also like to pay tribute to the work done by the GEC team dealing with Concentrix – Colette Smith in particular who, as a newly-elected AGS in 2016 led the campaign to bring the work back in house, secure civil service jobs for former Concentrix workers and, most recently, secure them significant improvements in both pay and terms and conditions by bringing them on to HMRC terms. Oh, and let’s not forget, winning the argument about payment by results privatisation so comprehensively the chief executive has made a public pledge that ‘the market’ will not be used in tax credit work in future. This was a significant achievement for our union, and the visible success of that campaign has once again demonstrated the value of trade unions. It’s no wonder that we’ve gone from 5 to 125 members among former Concentrix workers.
But this week we must look forward and set a programme that puts organising at the heart of everything we do. Our most recent figures show that the overall number of PCS members in HMRC has increased since January – we have not only managed to halt the downward trend in membership numbers caused by job losses, we have grown in overall size by around 1,200 members since January. This is a real credit to our reps and shows that PCS remains relevant in the workplace despite all of the obstacles placed in our way, but there is still plenty to do.
While the employer builds it future, we need to build our strength to deliver for members.
Members welcomed the announcement of the passing of the current PMR system, and we have welcomed the opportunity to take our conference policies forward into the workshops developing a new system. However, progress is slow and it’s clear that there are elements in HMRC who are reluctant to let the hated policy of forced distribution go.
We had an unprecedented reaction to our recent members' briefing following the last meeting with Jon Thompson. It’s clear members are getting increasingly angry about pay. Members don’t want to know that he understands why they are angry, they want something done about it. Our members are sick of empty words – HMRC needs to deliver and we will keep the pressure up until they do.
The decisions made this week are our statement of intent.
This GEC is clear that campaigning works and action gets results. And let me be clear, this is a GEC who supports members and branches who are prepared to fight.
The challenge for us is to get out in to offices to build our strength and maximise unity.
As we start this year’s group conference, the temptation is to dwell on our differences, and of course, it’s important that we do have honest debates about the tactics and strategy needed to take this group forward.
However, in having those debates it’s important to remember that there is more that unites us than that which divides us and that whatever our differences, the real enemy is not in this hall. It’s those politicians who disparage public service and put profit before people.
So, let’s ensure we conduct our debates in a fraternal manner and then once we've agreed policy, we unite to deliver the agenda that members set this week.
Thank you conference.