Dereham tax office to shut

Ian Clarke Four tax and customs offices are set to close in Norfolk - including the one at Dereham - but their 200 staff will be offered the chance to relocate and work elsewhere, it emerged today.

Ian Clarke

Four tax and customs offices are set to close in Norfolk - including the one at Dereham - but their 200 staff will be offered the chance to relocate and work elsewhere, it emerged today.

The move is part of a of a slimming down of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) which is expected to see 25,000 jobs lost and more than 200 offices closed across the country by 2011.

Eighteen tax and customs offices are set to close across East Anglia, with the loss of 800 jobs. But Norfolk appeared to have been spared the worst despite the closure of the Custom House at King's Lynn's Alexandra Dock, Roseberry Court in Norwich, Havenbridge House in Yarmouth and a tax office in Church Street, Dereham.

The 200 staff affected by the closures - three in Lynn, 45 in Norwich, 126 in Yarmouth and 28 in Dereham - will be expected to work from other offices in Norwich and King's Lynn which will remain open.

Breckland Labour group leader and Dereham town councillor Robin Goreham said: “I'm surprised and disappointed that HMRC have seen fit to take this action which deprives the people of Dereham and district of a very valuable service. My understanding was that, if the Church Street offices had to close, an attempt would be made to provide an alternative office presence within the town. If this is not to be the case, then I believe this to be a wrong decision and one which doesn't take into account the needs of a rural market town.”

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He had met with management and staff representatives and the closure was also opposed by Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson and Breckland Council.

Lina Curtis, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) representative in Dereham, said staff were very disappointed by today's announcement that the Church Street office would be closing after so many years.

She said: “Although HMRC will provide support with travel costs for a time, on civil service salaries staff will have to think whether it is realistic in the longer term to travel to work in Norwich or King's Lynn.”

She said although there was a ministerial commitment to retain a customer contact point in the town that had not been elaborated on in today's announcement.

Rex Tyrrell, branch secretary for the eastern region with the PCS, said: “In today's climate you could take the view the news could have been far harsher for people.

“We're part way through a three year modernisation programme and they're hoping over that time to lose 25,000 jobs. They're also looking to save money by vacating various offices.

“One of the knock-on effects will be there are people who will not find it easy to travel to a new location so they're forcing people out of a job by expecting them to move somewhere they can't get to easily.”

The 300,000-strong PCS Union said the closures would undermine the department's ability to collect taxes and offer advice to the public and businesses.

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “In these uncertain economic times, these closures and job losses will hit businesses, the public and the communities they serve.

"Rural areas will be disproportionately hit with face to face tax advice reduced to a bare minimum and quality jobs taken out of local economies.

“Office closures and job cuts will do nothing to tackle the £21.5 billion worth of uncollected tax and £25 billion lost through tax evasion.The government has to recognise that the erosion of public confidence can only be halted by having enough civil and public servants with the right resources to do the job.”

In a written ministerial statement today financial secretary to the treasury Stephen Timms said: “HMRC's regional review programme, which began in 2006, has been a massive and complex task. When HMRC was created in April 2005 from the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise it had 105,000 staff and two separate office networks with a total of 590 office buildings in well over 300 locations.

“Throughout the review programme HMRC has consulted on its proposals with staff, trade unions and key external stakeholders including MPs to ensure that no relevant factors were overlooked during the decision-making process.

“These have not been easy decisions. However, the overriding consideration has to be the Department's need to address new and challenging customer demands by restructuring its business and estate in the most effective and efficient way possible.”