Something to Declare
Laurence James CTA: I am a former Customs Officer and a member of ARC. Why are there so few of us?
Back in 1984 when I joined the then Customs and Excise, I was very quickly persuaded of the need to become a member of a union. Pay (of course); terms and conditions; and one-to-one representation in case I needed help.
I continued my membership as my career developed, and eventually joined ARC when I reached Grade 7. Soon after, I became an ARC case-worker—helping fellow members sort out workplace issues with management. That was over a decade ago. I now find myself a member of the ARC committee. I am the sole “ex-Customs” member.ARC (note it is Association of Revenue & Customs) is the union representing G7s and above working in HMRC. We are part of the FDA—publicly recognised as representing civil servants in senior grades in Government. We negotiate with HMRC on all matters relating to staff, including pay and conditions, and offer excellent one-on-one support for members who need advice.
Ten years after the merger, I can still sometimes detect who is “ex-Customs” and who is “ex-Revenue” from conversations, and I often wonder why that is. (It’s odd really, when you consider that nowadays many colleagues are “ex-DWP” or “ex-Home Office” etc.) But of more relevance here is that relatively few “ex-Customs” colleagues seem to join ARC, despite being in ARC grades. It could be that the perception of ARC as a union for “ex-Revenue” people puts colleagues off, or it could be the subscriptions, or something else. This short article outlines why I joined, and why I would recommend joining to all of my G7, 6 and SCS colleagues whatever department they are from.
ARC (note it is Association of Revenue & Customs) is the union representing G7s and above working in HMRC. We are part of the FDA—publicly recognised as representing civil servants in senior grades in Government. We negotiate with HMRC on all matters relating to staff, including pay and conditions, and offer excellent one-on-one support for members who need advice.
That advice can come in peculiar ways. It was an ARC event in the old Kingsway office in London that influenced my career in many ways: the then Chairman Mike Clasper was the speaker and was fielding questions from members. One colleague asked why it was that fully-trained inspectors were seemingly being overlooked in relation to leadership roles. Mike responded to the effect that “tech people tech; leaders lead; if you can do both then the sky’s the limit.”
The tax training I received from Customs was first-rate (I became a Chartered Tax Adviser during my time there), and I am still proud of the support given to me—and what it said about Customs as an organisation. But I was genuinely inspired by the simple logic of what Mike had said, and it has stayed with me ever since: to be just as expert and professional a manager and leader as I was a tax practitioner meant that I had to study hard over many years.
And this goes to the heart of why I am an ARC member, and why I remain an ARC case-worker: management and leadership is really hard work. It is at times stressful and can be very demanding. Yet HMRC employs humans to take on these challenging roles (I am a business unit head). Humans who are professional, often committed, tenacious, emotional as well as social creatures, but who sometimes make mistakes. Mistakes which affect our members. This is where ARC can help. Our expert case-workers offer support, backed-up by a pool of highly experienced and highly skilled ARC colleagues, and where needed, lawyers. I have always felt that ARC case-workers try where they can to work with the business to help resolve issues—and this approach is often very effective at resolving matters quickly and avoiding lasting difficulties.
At the same time, ARC Committee members work with HMRC to help get their policies right—for example, right now we are involved in the grievance policy rewrite and the Respect at Work agenda.
So if you want excellent representation and expert case-worker support when you need it, why not chat with your local ARC rep?
If you are in Croydon, I’m always available on the third floor to talk about happy days working at Heathrow Airport (yes, I was a proper Customs Officer), and the good old days of various London VAT offices of the past (and my many Scale Charges assessments)—as well as giving advice on why you should join us and what we can do for you.