Delegates and officials from the Revenue and Customs Group met in Brighton on the morning of Monday, 22 May for the opening of our annual group conference. Despite the Standing Orders Committee's (SOC) recommendation of an earlier than usual start, almost everyone managed to make it to the Brighton Centre in time for our re-elected group president Lorna Merry's opening remarks.
“Put organising at the heart of what we do” – Lorna Merry
Lorna spoke of the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee reports that “challenged management views on the Building our Future (FoB) – or office closures – programme” and showed up the myriad holes in the department's plans. She also congratulated the reps and members who had mobilised to secure victories for the ISS cleaners in Liverpool, and Carol Gerrard and her GEC support team who led the PCS effort to bring both the tax credit work, and the workers doing it, back in to HMRC after the high-profile failure of the Concentrix privatisation contract. Despite the 1,200 new PCS members in the R&C Group in the past year, our total membership has dropped because of the ongoing civil service cuts. With that in mind she said: “We need to put organisation at the heart of what we do” to ensure we are as strong as possible going into the new year.
Group secretary Martin Kelsey followed up, moving the annual report, touching on the major challenges of the past year and the year to come.
After this it was down to the main business of the conference: the motions submitted by branches. Highlights of the debates included motion 13 on attendance management, moved by West Mercia branch and carried unanimously.
“Conference should put our foot down and say 'no more'. No longer should we meekly allow these policies to go on and hurt us, hurt our colleagues, and end careers” – Jordan Millward
Two emergency motions led the BoF section in general debate. Emergency motion 3 (EM3) from the GEC was endorsing the Building a Better Future – The PCS Alternative for HMRC strategy document. EM4 from Bootle Taxes was welcoming of the strategy, but pointed to its perceived shortcomings and instructed the GEC to write to local authorities and combined authorities, inviting them to offer suggestions and to make representations to HMRC on behalf of our members, as well as agreeing a strategy for a successful ballot for action against the next round of closures and redundancies. After a considerable debate with several speakers pointing to the lack of support for a national ballot, EM3 was carried and EM4 automatically fell.
Motions 36 and 37 made mention of the increasing costs that would be faced by those members able to commute to a regional centre, and the effect HMRC's short-sighted reliance on digital systems would have on tax collection. The moving speeches both referenced the campaigns being run by branches in Scotland, and how they have set the tone other branches can follow.
“Edinburgh branch's high-profile Bathgate campaign with cross-party support and local authority support has inspired similar campaigns in East Kilbride, Cumbernauld and Glasgow to save all the tax offices we represent” – Scott Clark
The estates section was populated by motions that decried the employer's lack of consideration and forethought in setting up the regional centres. motion 22 from Telford branch referred to the staff being “packed together in a manner that would make a sardine long for personal space”, tying in to Motion 23 (North Wales and North West)'s instruction to negotiate a national policy on desk sharing. Motion 24 from Glasgow and Clyde branch instructed the GEC to demand gender neutral toilets in all HMRC buildings.
“What we want is to increase the choice from 3 toilets to 4. Anyone could use these GNT [gender neutral toilets] whether they identify as transgender or not. Similarly anyone identified as transgender could continue using male or female toilets if they preferred. Basically, everyone would do what is comfortable for them, and let others do the same” – Taylor Riach
All three motions passed unanimously.
The nominations for exceptional service awards for Jeanette Brook, Margaret 'Mags' Davies, Jim McKenna, Martin Page, Andy Reid and Allan Tait were all passed unanimously. These awards will be presented at next year's conference.
Mark Serwotka's annual speech to conference was heavily focussed on the impending general election, calling on activists to prepare for both the best and the worst possible outcomes. Neither of these options involved resting on our laurels, but would mean recruiting new members, building the fighting fund and getting back in the habit of regular workplace meetings in order to agitate and encourage all our members to be ready to take whatever industrial action might be necessary to protect our jobs and our families futures.
Monday's final guest speaker was Peter Dowd MP, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, who spoke of Labour's manifesto and how it would make things better for unions. He referred to the Tories' cuts to facility time and the micro-management required to adhere to the austerity agenda, as well as our years of wage restraint and the rise of food banks across the UK, and how, in this environment, there was no good rationale for HMRC's office closure plan.
In the Tax Justice and Business stream sections all motions were carried convincingly, and after a brief guillotine section conference was adjourned for the day.