Staff morale results show HMRC ship is steadying

by Calum Fuller

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21 Jan 2014

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EACH YEAR, the civil service runs a survey of its people to monitor how engaged they are in their work, by measuring thing such as morale, motivation and satisfaction.

As an infamously demoralised department, it is no great shock that HM Revenue & Customs, and the Inland Revenue before it, consistently fared rather poorly in areas such as enjoyment of work, resources and culture.

Yet, this year almost every area yielded improved results and an overall improvement on 2012. Which is somewhat suprising given the amount of strikes that have taken place over grievances including cuts to pensions, working conditions, job cuts and privatisation.

It is even more surprising given workers were supposedly "treated with contempt" by government ministers, according to PCS union leader Mark Serwotka's claims in the summer of 2013.

Of course, HMRC strike activity last year was part of a wider movement in the civil service, which saw a three-month programme of industrial action commence on Budget Day 2013.

That, married with the closure of contact centres and, according to the PCS, an expected further 10,000 job losses by 2015 make these results all the more pleasant a surprise for HMRC bosses.

Lagging behind

In spite of all the aforementioned problems, for each metric on leadership and managing change, the proportion giving positive responses rose significantly, although they remain somewhat down on the rest of the civil service.

For example, the responses for "I feel involved in the decisions that affect my work" have improved ten points to 46% on 2012's results, while responses to "my work gives me a sense of personal accomplishment" rose nine points to 66%.

Nevertheless, HMRC still lagged behind the rest of the civil service. Better it may be, but it was arguably starting from a low base to begin with. Indeed, in the highest-performing category in this year's survey, the taxman came in between five and 17 points behind its civil service counterparts.

Overall, 44% of HMRC respondents gave positive responses, up 2% on 2012, yet on average 14% behind other departments and 18% behind the highest-performing.

But while that may appear stark, most pundits seem confident the figures corroborate their assessment that the new team under Lin Homer is making headway in turning HMRC around.

In fact, it may go down as a minor mircale, given heavy and regular criticism Homer has faced in the mainstream media and from the Public Accounts Committee.

There is, however, a concern that the figures somehow demonstrate the department's ability to cope with cuts, which - given the chancellor's insistence that more are required if the UK is to achieve its deficit targets - may attract the axe yet again.

Any threat in that regard is unlikely to be made clear until March's Budget, however, and in the run-up to an election, further pain is doubtful just yet.

The profession is largely united in its belief the HMRC is under-resourced, and far from making further cuts, has earned the right to greater firepower, especially given its position as the government's primary revenue source.

It's something that can be argued both ways in relation to HMRC's issues around pursuing taxes from large, multinational companies, but prudence dictates that the taxman cannot hope to be successful in that area without being properly equipped.

For now, though, a state of inertia in that regard is likely to remain until after the election.

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