Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Death knell sounds for 200 tax office jobs
By Emily Walker

From Swindon Advertiser

MORE than 200 people working for the tax office in Swindon will lose their jobs by 2010.
Union leaders are in discussions this week, following the announcement of plans to leave just a handful of staff working for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs Swindon office by 2010.

The Public and Commercial Services union has vowed the fight the closure of the Farnsby Street office that employs 210 workers on its payroll.

PCS's Swindon chairman Phil Robbins said: "The government has said it plans to close the Swindon tax office by 2010.

"The nearest offices will be Southampton, Birmingham and Bristol. Not only will that put people's jobs in serious jeopardy, but people using the service could also have to travel long distances."

Mr Robbins said the government programme to make the tax service leaner was the result of more people using new technology to pay tax bills, get advice and manage debts.

Staff at Swindon's HMRC office were told about the threat to their jobs last Thursday.

"We would have thought in a town as big as Swindon it would have been viable to keep this office open. More people in the area are now making payments with debit cards or online.

But not everyone can do that. And it is more likely to be the same people who would struggle to travel to Bristol to meet someone in person, " said Mr Robbins.

Union members have not decided to strike yet, but if a walkout went ahead, there could be hold-ups in tax bills being paid, and P45s being sent out and rebates being settled.

The union said the service already had more than a million tax credit repayments, tax returns, p45s, and tax codes in a backlog of unposted mail, and job cuts would only make problems worse.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the tax service would be "unfit" if 15 per cent of its budget was axed between 2008 and 2011. Mr Serwotka said: "PCS will fight these job cuts and office closures, not only on behalf of our members but to protect the public service we provide, often to the most vulnerable members of our communities."

An HMRC spokeswoman said:

"No concrete decisions have been made at the moment and staff in Swindon will get a chance to give feedback from February next year.

Swindon is part of a cluster of offices within a 25-mile radius so we would be looking to relocate staff within 25 miles.

People working similar jobs will work in the same office, which makes sense and saves money.

In places where we already have an inquiry centre, the inquiry service will be kept within a few miles. So people will be able to make inquiries in Swindon, but there would be a few people rather than few hundred working in the office."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Get ready to go out on strike"
By Daniel Knowles

From the Swindon Advertiser

LABOUR leadership contestant John McDonnell called on Swindon unions to join rolling national strikes he predicts for next year in a bid to overturn privatisation and job cuts. Mr McDonnell addressed a meeting of the Swindon Trade Unions Council at Broadgreen Community Centre on Wednesday night as part of a series of visits to Labour and trade groups across the country.

Mr McDonnell said while he was being written off by the "Islington New Labour" set, there was no reason why he could not be Tony Blair's replacement with the backing of rank and file party and union members.

He warned the party was "sleep walking in to losing the next election" if the policies of privatisation pushed by their "architect" Gordon Brown were not overturned. Mr McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington, said he was a "declared contender for the Labour leadership".

"You are either in favour of privatisation or public services," Mr McDonnell said. "You can not have it both ways. We are on the edge of losing the welfare state. We are on the edge of losing our public services. We need to wake up and wake up very quickly."

Mr McDonnell labelled New Labour "absolutely Thatcherite in some respects" for forcing through privatisation since they came to power in 1997.

"We have privatised more jobs in nine years than the Tories did in 18 years," Mr McDonnell said.

Mr McDonnell said the weakness of the Labour organisation was shown in the turn out to yesterday's NHS protest in London.

"We should have been marching in tens of thousands," Mr McDonnell said. McDonnell said union members and the wider public had the chance to turn privatisation around.

He said opposition was growing more vocal, united against vanishing public services, nuclear power and weapons spending and the war in Iraq.

He expected the turning point to be a ballot going to civil servants soon to decide on industrial action early in the new year.

If other unions joined it, they could reverse the New Labour policies and save the party from electoral defeat, Mr McDonnell said.

"It's not one day but continuous action," Mr McDonnell said.

"We need to be balloting our own members to see if we should coincide with that action.
We need to share information and look at joint campaigns."

Mr McDonnell's address won applause from the more than 25 people at the meeting, including representatives from postal, transport, health council and general unions.