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House of Commons Hansard
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Revenue and Customs: Chorley
23 March 2010
Volume 508
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To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) what the outcome was of the moderation process in respect of relocation of HM Revenue and Customs customer operations staff from Lingmell House, Chorley; and if he will make a statement; [317911]

(2) what role (a) his Department and (b) HM Revenue and Customs plays in the moderation process in respect of relocation of staff consequent on the closure of Lingmell House, Chorley; and if he will make a statement;

(3) what commitments HM Revenue and Customs management have made to customer operations staff at Lingmell House, Chorley; and if he will make a statement;

(4) on what dates HM Revenue and Customs wrote to customer operations staff at Lingmell House, Chorley to indicate an intention to move them to employment in a benefits and credits team; on what date HM Revenue and Customs wrote to their staff to rescind that intention; who was responsible for the reversal of that decision; if he will investigate the reasons for that reversal; and if he will make a statement.

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Moderation formed part of the Human Resource (HR) procedures put in place by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to facilitate the redeployment of staff from its offices, including Chorley, affected by the decisions arising from the Regional Review Programme undertaken between 2006 and 2008.

The moderation process was developed by HMRC, in consultation with trade unions, to help staff and managers identify whether proposed redeployment options were within the pre-defined Reasonable Daily Travel limits. The process was agreed across the Department together with trade unions, with decisions taken at a local level within line management chains and with independent support and advice to ensure fairness and consistency. Moderation groups were established to make relocation decisions based upon information provided by staff during one-to-one meetings held with their managers.

As part of the moderation process each individual's case was considered individually and personal circumstances were taken into account when deciding if a move was within reasonable daily travelling time for the person concerned.

In February 2008 HMRC announced that Lingmell House would close with the expectation that staff working in customer operations would relocate with their work to customer operations strategic sites in Manchester or Bootle. In line with departmental guidance, customer operations staff working in Lingmell House were then considered for transfer to Manchester and Bootle.

Following one-to-one meetings between managers and staff, decisions were taken by a moderating panel as to whether it was reasonable for an individual to relocate to one of these sites within reasonable daily travel, taking their individual personal circumstances into account. Staff were notified of the outcome of this process by letter in April 2008.

In July 2008 a second moderation process was mistakenly carried out to consider moves for customer operations staff in the Chorley office to the Tax Credit Office in Preston. As an outcome of this moderation on 29 July 2008 HMRC wrote to customer operations staff at Lingmell House, Chorley, who were within reasonable daily travel of Preston, to indicate that they could be relocated to the Tax Credit Office at Preston.

The outcome of this second moderation is invalid, as it was not carried out in accordance with the processes agreed between HMRC and departmental trade unions. These processes required that Chorley customer operations staff be moderated within their own business stream—customer operations—and were therefore not eligible to be moderated with the tax credits office in Preston. Changes to the business and staffing requirements in the Tax Credit Office in the second half of 2008 resulted in recruitment of further staff stopping, with no likelihood of future vacancies in that location.

Those staff members unable to travel to their nearest customer operations strategic site at Manchester or Bootle were informed of this in an office meeting in March 2009 and issued with pre-surplus letters on 17 March 2009 to give them priority access to other jobs or to apply for early release schemes. This decision was taken by HMRC's senior regional manager for customer operations.

After being made surplus in January 2010 some Chorley customer operations staff and the local trade union representative contacted HMRC to clarify the position with regard to the letter they had received in July 2008 about transferring to TCO Preston. The regional director's support team replied giving more details as to why the second moderation process was invalid and apologised for the confusion and unwarranted expectations that had arisen as a result of this moderation.

At the time of the announcement on 13 January 2010 that Lingmell House would close during 2010-11, redeployment solutions had been found for 27 of the 39 staff working there. The announcement on 13 January provided staff who were unable to relocate the option to volunteer for compulsory early severance or compulsory early retirement and leave the Department by 1 April.

HMRC will continue to help those staff who chose not to take up this option to find redeployment opportunities within the Department or in the wider civil service.