The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has accused HMRC of breaching civil service purdah rules after contracts for its plan to move 60,000 staff to regional hubs were signed in the pre-election period
PCS has written to Jon Thompson, chief executive of HMRC, requesting an urgent response to the disclosure that contracts with developers for the ‘Building our Future’ programme appear to have been signed by HMRC during purdah, which began on 22 April.
PCS, in the letter, say that it was told at a workforce planning meeting by HMRC’s director of workforce management Ravi Chand that contracts with developers regarding proposed regional centres were signed during purdah.
The letter continues: ‘We pressed Ravi on this issue and he suggested that we should refer the matter to you as chief executive. Therefore, PCS would appreciate your most immediate response as to why HMRC feels that it is not governed by Civil Service Purdah guidance in this matter.’
Civil Service guidance regarding decisions during the Purdah period states: ‘it is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any action of a continuing or long term character. Decisions on matters of policy, and other issues such as large and/or contentious commercial contracts, on which a new government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present government, should be postponed until after the election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.’
PCS has ‘had a verbal briefing from a number of sources but have not had sight of the contract’.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘This appears to be a serious and very worrying breach of purdah rules. The rules around purdah are clear, contentious decisions like this should not be taken during an election period. It is troubling that HMRC does not feel that long-established pre-election rules apply in this matter.
‘Given the controversial and highly politicised track record of the Building our Future programme, HMRC needs to urgently explain exactly why these very sensitive decisions appear to have been taken during an election period.’
An HMRC spokesperson said: ‘HMRC always ensures it follows the Civil Service guidelines in pre-election purdah periods.’
Under its ‘Building our Future’ programme HMRC plans to shut its current 170 tax offices across the country to open 13 new regional hubs, a central London headquarters and four support centres, which is designed to reduce costs. These plans have been subject to criticism by various unions including PCS and the public accounts committee (PAC).