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Gershon Review

Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2007

5. Whether he has met Treasury Ministers and the First Minister in Wales to discuss the effect of the Gershon review job reductions on west Wales and the valleys objective 1 area. (114704)

I met the Paymaster General on Monday to discuss the effect of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ change programme on west Wales and the valleys and Wales as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have discussed the issue with the First Minister.

I thank the Minister for that useful reply. He will know that nearly 50 jobs have been lost in the Department for Work and Pensions office in Porthmadog and that there are further threats to about 50 in the Revenue office. The loss of 100 jobs in a small town in the objective 1 area is a devastating blow. May I ask him sincerely to redouble his efforts—I know he will—to have the policy changed so that it does not devastate that area of north-west Wales?

HMRC has not announced any office closures. The programme of regional reviews announced in November is a consultation exercise. Published future staff numbers are initial proposals only. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that before withdrawing any office, a full impact assessment will be undertaken, including an assessment of the impact on the local economy. I agreed with the Paymaster General that we would meet again with the First Minister to discuss these matters, but I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I said to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), that if we did not have a United Kingdom Government, these issues would not be discussed. His policy on separation of the United Kingdom would deny his—

My hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent service that the Bangor Revenue office provides to the whole of north-west Wales. It employs many of my constituents, but those jobs are under threat. Will he press the Treasury, as I and many other Members have pressed the Department for Work and Pensions, to ensure that we provide a full bilingual service to people in north-west Wales? The DWP accepted that and moved Revenue jobs from south Wales; now is the time to keep them in north-west Wales.

I can tell my hon. Friend that HMRC recognises the needs of its Welsh-speaking customers, especially during this period of change, and is seeking a better understanding of their requirements across the range of HMRC services. I will discuss that with the Paymaster General and the First Minister when we meet again.

May I reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen)? The Minister may be aware that of the 35 members of staff—[Interruption.]

The Minister may be aware that of the 35 members of staff at the Revenue office in Porthmadog, 24 are Welsh speakers. There are another 44 Welsh speakers in the Bangor, Rhyl and Colwyn Bay cluster. Can he confirm that he recognises the importance to people in north Wales of receiving a Welsh language service from the Revenue office? Has he impressed that on his colleague, the Paymaster General?

The hon. Gentleman is right. The Porthmadog office deals with telephone and written correspondence in Welsh. The formal consultation on the future of that office will not begin until after April 2008, so there is plenty of time for representations to be made by Members, trade unions and stakeholders, not only in north Wales but throughout Wales. I assure him that the Paymaster General and I will take up the matter with the First Minister when we meet again.