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HMRC and DWP Offices

Volume 472: debated on Wednesday 27 February 2008

3. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues in HM Treasury on the reduction in the number of HM Revenue and Customs offices in west Wales. (188100)

6. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the effects of restructuring Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs offices in Wales; and if he will make a statement. (188103)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues at Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions, including on that very important issue. We shall continue to take a keen interest in the restructuring and its impact on Wales.

My hon. Friend will be aware that Treasury colleagues undertook to have discussions not only with colleagues in other Departments, but with the Welsh Assembly Government, to try to safeguard HMRC jobs and services in west Wales. What progress has been made, and can he report to the House on the matter?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that vital issue. Wales Office Ministers have suggested options—co-location, for example—in meetings and in correspondence with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and others; we have also raised the matter with the First Minister. WAG officials have discussed the option of co-locating offices with HMRC officials, but opportunities for co-location are limited, because HMRC is focused on achieving cost savings and is not taking on new premises. However, co-location may well be a possibility where a building housing an inquiry centre is given up and an alternative building has to be found nearby. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend and others have done to raise this important matter and push the case forward.

May I, through the Under-Secretary of State, add my welcome to the Secretary of State on his return to the Front Bench? He did a lot of sterling work in the north of Ireland, and I am sure that he will do the same for Wales.

The answer that the Under-Secretary of State gave is not good enough in the light of the concern felt across the House. Twenty-eight of the 33 DWP offices to close in Wales are within the objective 1 area, as are 550 of the 750 jobs to disappear from the HMRC sector. More must be done—not tinkering with buildings, but acting to secure those jobs.

Once again, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is worth putting in context—Wales has now received more than 2,700 posts as part of the Government relocation—but the issue of substance that he raised is important. We understand that the review process is now complete for the Wales urban centres of Cardiff and Swansea, and that last week HMRC told staff that its decision would be announced this Friday. He will understand that I cannot pre-empt the announcement of that decision, but we are all looking forward to hearing it and seeing how it will affect all parts of Wales.

My hon. Friend will be aware that his office has been dealing with the matter for the past 12 months. One of the key issues has been the principle of co-location and joined-up government. The Treasury needs further pressure to consider seriously co-location and joined-up government with other Departments, including Welsh Assembly Departments, as well as with the NHS and even the private sector, so that we can secure those very important jobs, particularly in the area covered by the west Wales and the valleys conversion fund.

My hon. Friend reiterates the case that he and others have been advancing for some time. I am grateful to him for mentioning the role played by the Wales Office in raising the issue of co-location. We await with interest the announcement on Friday, and I know that he and others will continue to press their case hard for the effective use of co-location as part of the strategy.

The Minister will be aware that the issue has been dragging on for almost 18 months. Is he aware of the impact that that is having on staff at HMRC offices— [Interruption.]

Order. The noise level is too high. There should not be conversations. [Interruption.] That goes for Members on the Labour Benches as well.

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Minister aware of the enormous and unacceptable uncertainty facing staff at HMRC offices such as the one in Haverfordwest, which employs 60 people, and the impact that that uncertainty is having on the morale of the HMRC work force, who provide a vital front-line service? When will staff find out whether they will be made redundant, or whether they might be offered a relocation package or work elsewhere? The uncertainty faced by people in my constituency is the most worrying thing for them at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that one of the biggest issues at the moment is the uncertainty of people looking at their futures in HMRC. I agree. Any process of reform such as this brings uncertainty, but as I said in response to previous questions, we hope for some conclusion in the announcement on Friday, to which we look forward with interest. He is absolutely right to say that people want to know where they stand as a result of the consultation.

The Secretary of State has spoken eloquently and wisely on these matters in the Welsh Grand Committee, but will the Minister deal with the inconsistency of an objective 1 area losing jobs on such a scale? We are asking for highly paid, highly skilled jobs, but HMRC offices such as the one in Aberystwyth could be reduced to a rump of only three employees. Will he ensure that the outcome of any discussions and the report on Cardiff and Swansea will not prejudice the case of rural tax offices in west Wales, not least because relocation means very little to people in Aberystwyth, Haverfordwest and similar places?

Again, the hon. Gentleman, along with many other hon. Members, has highlighted the importance of the issue right across Wales, not only in west Wales and the valleys, but in the north, south, east and west. I cannot pre-empt Friday’s announcement, but the points that he and others have made have been noted and fed into the consultation. We look forward with great interest to the result.