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Friday, 28 November 2014

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Carlisle city centre protest at proposals to stop tax enquiry service

People across Cumbria will be unable to talk to tax officials face-to-face under government proposals which would hit vulnerable people the hardest, it is claimed.

PCS union strike photo
Members of the PCS Union with Coun Lee Sherriff, centre, in Carlisle

Civil servants held a protest in Carlisle city centre to highlight the proposed changes to tax office enquiry centres. The action is part of wider ongoing industrial action over pay, conditions and job cuts.

The cuts will affect staff in job centres, tax offices, driving test centres, museums and the Rural Payments Agency.

The action is being taken in different areas of the county, involving an estimated 250,000 public sector workers, following a national walkout on budget day in March and is part of a three-month rolling campaign against government cuts, due to end this month.

Organisers say they will review how it will continue after June and their main aim is to get bosses around the table for meaningful talks.

Garry Humphrey, the chairman of Solway Public branch of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, said that staff from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) were involved.

Glenn Palmer, branch secretary, said offices in Whitehaven, Penrith, Carlisle and Lillyhall would all be affected by the proposed changes.

He said: “All we are trying to do today is get the message over to the public about what will happen if they shut the enquiry centres.”

According to the union there are 281 local tax offices across the UK which provide the face-to-face service to more than 2.5 million people – but it is due to end by March next year.

Mr Palmer said that when they had been at the Whitehaven enquiry centre there had been unanimous support from staff and the public.

He added: “It was the first time we’ve spoken to the public and they didn’t understand what was happening.

“The number of people who were coming down without an appointment – they just wanted to talk to someone face-to-face.”

He said that a lot of vulnerable people could not afford to, or did not want to, use the telephone or internet to access the service, and that calls in a queuing system could last as long as 30 minutes.

According to government figures each interview costs £150 to conduct but the union disputes this and has claimed that the figure for a lot of short queries is as little as £5 or £10.

The union claims that 62,000 civil service jobs have already been lost since the coalition government came to power.

People who will be affected by the changes are being urged to write to their MPs and councillors to ask that they speak up against the closures.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “We have got a contingency plan in place and we have seen a low turnout in strike action in the past.

“It’s obviously disappointing that the PCS has said it is going to push for strike action.”

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