HMRC’s office: More negatives than positives

AS BUNGLING boss David Brent from The Office once said, ‘There is good news, and there is bad news’ for HM Revenue & Customs in its latest staff survey. The good news is that the results are showing an improvement across the board from the previous two years’ surveys. The bad news is the base was incredibly low to begin with and employee engagement remains very poor.

Let’s start with the good news. Three-quarters of staff are interested in their work; the same number understand HMRC’s purpose and objectives; 84% of staff say they can rely on their colleagues and most people trust their team; and the majority of employees (63%) see themselves at HMRC in three years time. These figures are all an improvement on last year.

But now for the bad news – and there is a lot of it. The main problems surround the perceptions of HMRC leadership. Worryingly, staff still do not have faith in reforms, with only 13% saying changes are made for the better. On issues of on leadership, less than one in five believe that HMRC is managed well, have confidence in decisions made by HMRC management, believe that change is well managed or that they have the opportunity to contribute views before decisions that affect them are made.

It also seems that employees are not proud of working for the taxman. Only 18% would recommend it as a great place to work, 22% say they are proud telling others they are part of HMRC and 26% feel a strong attachment to the organisation.

But as John Whiting, tax director at the Chartered Institute of Taxation, points out, the improvement process is a long one. It is going in the right direction and there are signs that the Revenue has recognised where it is necessary to improve morale.

Engagement with the tax profession will give the leadership a greater insight into the everyday problems that are faced by advisors and will help it to understand the challenges faced by HMRC frontline staff. And there are moves towards improving that.

Paul Aplin, a partner at AC Mole & Sons, said that a member of the HMRC Executive Committee recently visited the firm for six hours. The staff “really felt they were being listened to” in areas such as delays to post, the use of call centres and iXBRL. Similar visits to other practices had also created a positive impact.

It could be said that advisors’ issues with this service affects the work of frontline HMRC staff – a greater understanding of this will help staff morale.

But, as Aplin says, the acid test is whether anything changes. He points to the survey, in which only 29% of staff feel senior managers will take action over this.

“The board needs to talk as much as possible to its frontline people to see what is happening at the coalface,” Aplin adds. “These statistics say to me that the frontline staff need to feel they are being listened to.”

As always, a vast part of staff morale comes down to pay and fears over job security. Three-quarters of all staff are unhappy with pay and conditions – identical to last year.

And a parliamentary answer from Exchequer secretary David Gauke showed a 30% headcount decrease from 2004, before the merger of Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise. Not surprisingly, the headcount figures are going down, with more offices being shut – there are now 487 offices in the UK, down from 708 in 2001.

An HMRC statement read: “Since our last survey results there have been improvements that give rise to cautious optimism. However, we know we still have a great deal to do to make HMRC a better place to work.”

HMRC does have some reason to be cheerful. But the bigger picture of ranging complaints over service, dissatisfaction over pay and concern over job cuts means any progress is likely to be very slow indeed.

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