A cold and busy finale to 2017
Two weeks ending 22 December 2017
On Monday 11 December the schools were closed and the roads were frozen. I had to get the 11.00am train down to London but it was cancelled. My stepdaughter drove me down for the next train, which ran late but got me to London in time for the wellbeing meeting scheduled for 4pm. Our Wellbeing Champion (Angela McDonald) was in Leeds and we spoke via video link. She is keen to know in what areas she can make a difference on the wellbeing agenda. We need to know from you what areas you think we should focus on. We have suggested healthy eating as one, but we would like to know just how many of you want a workplace gym and what else you think we need to be doing.
Then across to the Mother’s Union for our joint event with CoVi where we had three speakers who gave a brief presentation about their views on tax during 2017 and then I chaired a question and answer session for the room. The theme was taxation and citizenship, and we used Twitter to publicise it, with a live feed for the presentations (but not for the Q & A fortunately). We were hijacked by an individual who did not believe the Queen paid tax and was actually quite objectionable when told he was wrong (not by me), but that did not ruin the evening and we had some good questions around tax avoidance, HMRC resourcing and other things that are regularly aired. Vicky Pryce, who has worked in government, stated that HMRC has lost resource over the years and that means they (we) feel the pressure – she said it in a way that got some sympathy, which is a first!
Tuesday was a busy day of meetings about HR issues. Firstly the new grievance process and how it would work. We had hoped this would be rolled out by the end of January but it has been put back because it is important that it is right when it is finalised. We know that the grievance test has many faults, but removing it is risky unless we are confident that any replacement will be fit for purpose.
Then Paula and I met with HR policy about TOIL. This was very frustrating because business areas have told HR Policy that they don’t think there is an issue with TOIL. Some areas have said they do not want to have to record hours and one has said they only give TOIL if they have actually asked an individual to work extra hours. Well we seem to get lots of traffic on TOIL but when we ask for examples of how it is not working very few people come forward. Yet each year there is a motion asking for consistency of treatment – so something must be wrong somewhere. We are considering where we take this next but have asked (and will insist) that the business area that says you cannot have TOIL unless you have been specifically asked to work extra hours are told that this is wrong.
Finally, the HR Policy monthly meeting, where this month we discussed flexible working because it hasn’t landed in all areas, despite the statement made by the Department via the Manager’s Bulletin. We did manage to ascertain that there is no central policy on minimum part-time hours, so we will be raising that with separate areas of business. We also discussed whether there is a need for a flexible working passport so that flexible working arrangements don’t have to be renegotiated if you move jobs.
At that same meeting, the Department committed to a review of attendance management – we have been highlighting the mental health angle on the basis it puts too much pressure on individuals who have little or no training in how to manage mental health issues, but we are also pushing on making it clear that discretion is part of the policy.
Finally, we discussed streamlining meetings which I am all in favour of, given that we spend such a lot of time on the BOF locations work. I would like to see us find a more sustainable way of properly consulting and engaging with the Department, and I think we are getting there with this. BOF has been all encompassing so we need to be sure we don’t miss the business as usual issues.
The afternoon was spent in Elizabeth House (FDA’s temporary accommodation) to deal with emails and talk to Zohra Francis, our national officer, about what needs to be done in the new year.
Wednesday 13th was a trip to Nottingham to meet Stephen Boyd, HMRC director of estates, as our usual representative couldn’t make the meeting because the time was changed. Stephen doesn’t pull any punches – he acknowledged and apologised for not engaging on the partial closures announced, so I said as long as I had the names of those they were now engaging with (to be sure sufficient support was available) I would like to move on. We discussed other issues including health and safety on some of the building sites we now have as part of the Regional Centre developments.
Thursday 14th was a flight to Edinburgh for their Centre meeting and a bit of a spending spree at Edinburgh airport. The Centre meeting wasn’t that well attended, but it was useful to hear their take on what is happening in Edinburgh. It was also good to hear they have the same concerns about the prospects for career development when there are insufficient SCS outside of London – and certainly not enough across Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales. We keep pushing the Department on how this will be achieved, and currently we are waiting to see if the jobs that are coming out of London will change the landscape. City Airport was a revelation, as was the journey to and from; if only all airport security was so streamlined and efficient – I had to get my salad box out to show them it didn’t contain anything deadly!
Friday 15th was a long day in the office until the meeting with Penny Ciniewicz, HMRC’s director general for customer compliance, at 3.30. Penny had apologised for the meeting being changed to so late on a Friday and future meetings are at a much better time. Nevertheless it was a good and productive meeting with some rumours being squashed and some information about financial planning being shared. I raised an issue about SA determinations and have asked the individual who first raised it with me to feed some information into the review that’s being done. The big message I took away, though, is that the way we do compliance is changing and if we get it right it will bear fruit. So we need to work with the Department to be sure we get the changes right and don’t overlook the important issues. Penny is open to this and her senior leadership team are, I think, ready to take it forward.
I then stayed down in London on Friday night and took a train up to see my family for an early Christmas celebration on 16 December. I wanted to do one journey not two – though I then had to walk across Liverpool to catch the second train which I hadn’t anticipated – neither did I anticipate that the chap who asked me the quickest way to Euston from Euston Square would also get off the train at Town Green (my final destination)! The RTI drove up and met me at my brothers with our two youngest children, and we had a Christmas evening with my parents and my brother’s family. Then we drove back down on Sunday so I could travel back to London on Monday.
On Monday, I met Margaret Hodge MP – curiosity got the better of me, and I went at her request to Portcullis House. She was delighted with the idea of a female president of ARC and asked a few questions about my background. We discovered we had neither of us completed our degrees and both of us thought Jon Thompson had been good for HMRC. She understood that HMRC was not a prosecuting authority, but her supplementary had me: how many cases have we sent through for prosecution that have been turned down by CPS – how would I find out?
Tuesday was supposed to be a meeting with Simon Claydon, head of tax at Lloyd’s, but he had a day’s leave instead; so apart from one dial-in I had a day to clear out some emails and file documents into CAFs here at FDA. It was productive but I was tired, so I had to keep drinking water to stay awake!
Wednesday was a call about engagement and what needs to happen with the staff survey results. We are keen to make sure that people don’t go off doing their own thing if there are lessons to be learnt and work that can be done centrally. We are concerned about the bullying comments and want to know what the Department is doing about this. Then there are the comments and scores about pay and reward – for goodness sake, will somebody take notice? I have spent two years banging the drum about pay – I think it’s time something happened and will continue to keep pushing!
Thursday was a day to travel home (before a call about noticeboards in the Regional Centres – yes, really) and to complete various admin tasks before finishing for Christmas. The Virgin train ticket sale meant I scored a first class ticket home for £17 which I thought was a very good way to end the year. RTI collected me from the station and we set about preparing for the rest of the festive season. It turned into a quiet one as he has been very ill. Fortunately, we had done the visits to family and present delivery and so could enjoy the break without the need to travel, or to play bridge, or to duplimate, or to do child care (apart from our own)! RTI spent a lot of the time asleep, the 16-year-old had tonsillitis and the 21-year-old a very heavy cold. I meanwhile sat and watched each of the Harry Potter films and tried, with minimal patience, to look after them. If ever there was a time to value our NHS staff (and the work we do to fund it) it was this Christmas.
I cannot finish this final blog of 2017 without thanking the people who have supported me over the year, all of you, and to recognise those who have left HMRC either because they wanted to or because they had to – I wish you well for your new future. To all of you I wish a happy New Year and hope that 2018 brings you what you need, along with, hopefully, a little enjoyment.