ARC President Tony Wallace prepares his Christmas list.
I hope that you and yours are having a pleasant and restful break whatever you have chosen to do.
I must admit that, as I write, I am struggling to get into the spirit. But to be fair, I am typing this aboard the Virgin East Coast Main Line train from Grantham to London at 7:20 on a fairly mild November morning following HMRC’s location announcements yesterday, so please cut me a bit of slack! In Christmas past editions of ARC news my predecessor Presidents have used this piece to write their Christmas list to HMRC and, as I am suffering from a bit of writer’s block at the moment, I have come to the conclusion that what was good enough for them is good enough for me. So here goes.
I thought that I would try to set out some of the things that HMRC could be doing to improve the Christmas Cheer of future Presidents, members and staff. A great many things are changing and some of them might even be for the better. I particularly like the idea that those absolutely brilliant new, young colleagues now joining us will be able to build their careers in the regions where they work, all the way through to the SCS, without being sucked remorselessly into the gravitational well of London. But I am also conscious that we have many other colleagues for whom the future looks a lot less bright and we, as a union, are responsible for making sure that their needs and aspirations are also addressed by their employer. There are quite a few “old fashioned” ideas and notions that still hold true today and I want to be sure that we help HMRC keep them at the front of its collective mind as we charge headlong into the brightness of the brave new world.
During my time in Large Business “give us certainty” was the most regular cry I would hear go up from our corporate customers. Whether the news be good or bad; they wanted to know as early as possible what the outcome of their planning, tax or commercial, would be. They were right to ask for such certainty and so are we. HMRC is changing, that is a fact; so why should the impact on those who work within it be any less clear? We are constantly told that austerity is the only way but is it? I know that money does not grow on trees but I also know this – no work – no money – no spending – no growth – no turnaround in the economy. ARC asked HMRC to be as honest as possible about the location announcements and to make them as early as they could. HMRC responded and deserve credit for doing so but with that early insight came an inevitable level of uncertainty, albeit mitigated by building in time for people to make plans. ARC always knew that the inevitable outcome of that flow of early, but incomplete, information would lead to a further period of uncertainty. However, the alternative was to wait until all of the planning was finished and set in stone; a process that would not allow HMRC to capture, and act upon, the views of its people. Had that happened members would have had certainty but I would hazard a guess that they, like me, would be considerably less happy to be presented with a set of outcomes over which we had no say. The key is therefore to consider what happens next.
The genie is now out of the bottle and people are entitled to see the uncertainty that remains evaporate as quickly as that can be done. With that comes the freedom for everyone to plan for what their future looks like. ARC, our members and HMRC need to be working closely together to give people the certainty they are entitled to and we need to do it openly. The Regional Implementation Groups are now in place and ARC has members sitting on those; we will have a real influence over the nature of those plans. In addition we have reps in every line of business and we expect to be included in the discussions within those businesses as they develop their own plans. I can see some tensions between Regional planning and Business planning so it is essential for HMRC to co-ordinate that work and to communicate decisions early. Much of the work within the Regional Teams will be handled by Committee but to do that effectively we need to be fully informed and able to capture local issues and the people who are best placed to do that are our individual members. Every member has a part to play in this, wherever in the wide sweep of the United Kingdom you may be. You have a voice and it needs to be heard. ARC will be gearing up our representation across all of our Centres to make sure that every member has a local rep to talk to, as a part of the chain we will use to ensure that the Regional Implementation Teams are listening to the things that our members are telling them. By the time you read this that work will already be underway.
Security of Tenure
We live in difficult economic times and we know that there is no such thing as a “job for life” (I rather suspect that there never was). No one is now asking for that but I do still believe that job security is good for the individual and good for society. You have a voice and it needs to be heard. ARC will be gearing up our representation across all of our Centres to make sure that every member has a local rep to talk to, as a part of the chain we will use to ensure that the Regional Implementation Teams are listening to the things that our members are telling them. By the time you read this that work will already be underway. People who know that their salary will flow in tend to spend money; they take mortgages, they buy gifts, cars and nice things, they eat out and enjoy life. That’s a good thing for them and for our hard pressed economy. Without work, jobs and cash the cycle grinds to a halt, it’s the cash that oils every part of the economic machine. We are constantly told that austerity is the only way but is it? I know that money does not grow on trees but I also know this – no work – no money – no spending – no growth – no turnaround in the economy.
We have a tremendous workforce in HMRC and, as I am never shy about sharing my partisan views of our members, we have a tremendous level of skill and professionalism in ARC. You are all highly articulate, professional and intelligent people; how do I know that? Because you are working in HMRC delivering for our whole nation and delivering in spades; were that not the case I am fairly certain that HMRC would have terminated its relationship with you and you would no longer be working within it. You each, over your career, deliver many, many multiples of your salary and there is no one, at all, who challenges that. So, HMRC has a choice to make. A great deal of money has been spent; recruiting you, training you and developing you. HMRC is bursting at the seams with ability and the skills that fuel the economy. I believe that it is better to keep those skills employed for the good of the country rather than have them leach away or, even worse, to move magically out of HMRC to reappear across the desk working in the Private sector. As part of the planning for the new Regional Centres HMRC should be doing everything in its power to keep those skills in the organisation; not to do so would be a waste in more ways than one.
This brings me to:
The Way We Work
TW3, not to be confused with David Frost and That Was The Week That Was (a wee joke for our older readers there), defines itself as: the Cabinet Office-led cross-departmental programme designed to help realise the Civil Service Reform Plan’s aim of ‘Creating a decent working environment for all staff, with modern workplaces enabling flexible working, substantially improving IT tools and streamlining security requirements to be less burdensome for staff’.
TW3 is not a charitable act or a present, it is a serious statement of intent to set out how the work of Government should be organised in the 21st Century. It is built around the concept of “smart working”, itself defined by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development as; ‘an approach to organising work that aims to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness in achieving job outcomes through a combination of flexibility, autonomy and collaboration, in parallel with optimising tools and working environments for employees.’
ARC believes that TW3 provides the impetus for all of the Civil Service to look more closely at options like distance working and better levered IT. TW3 suggests that Government departments adopt some of the best practices in the Private Sector because it is good for the business of Government. When it comes to getting a better deal for the business and for our members I agree with the Cabinet Office.
HMRC has spent a fortune to standardise our IT systems for case management, people management and post management. You can now look at any item of work at any number of workstations anywhere across the current estate. Many of you now have Blackberries, and tablets are rolling out. ARC members are employed because they are hard-working self-motivated people capable of making evidence-based decisions when faced with unusual situations which are not necessarily covered by clear statute or guidance. It is what you do. In short you have considerative roles which can be undertaken at a multitude of different places. We can literally work from anywhere; how do I know that? Because I am typing this on an iPad on the 7:20 Grantham to Kings Cross train. The iPad is linked, over the Cloud via my iPhone, to my base computer in Leake Street just by Waterloo station. It is all seamless and it works brilliantly. I asked Terry Cook, ARC President just 6 years ago how he did it from St Albans, where he lives, and the answer was he couldn’t; the technology did not exist. It does now and the pace of technological change is accelerating. How many of you knew what Facebook or Twitter was three or four years ago or, for that matter, what Yammer was 12 months ago? Consider what it might look like in the near future; 2020 is less than five years away and the technology by then will have taken another giant leap forward, so let’s get with the programme and use it for the good of our business and our people.
I firmly believe that the drive to the Regional structure need not, and must not, result in the evaporation of thousands of collective years of skill, professionalism and expertise; all applied to magnificent effect by our members. If ever HMRC needed a case to change its business model to retain those skills, the Cabinet Office has given them that case; ARC is asking them to use it.
HMRC hates to be an outlier, I know because I am regularly told so when we get around to negotiations on pay, terms and conditions. So why are we looking like an outlier here? It’s time for HMRC to recognise the potential it has to make the future better for us all; ARC is more than happy to help them do that…