Closure of tax office ‘will be a huge blow’

CONCERN Cllr Jason Fazackarley
CONCERN Cllr Jason Fazackarley
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A TAX office threatened with closure has received the backing of Portsmouth City Council.

At a meeting of the full council councillors from both major parties voted to offer their support to 550 HMRC employees who could face redundancy if the government pushes ahead with a proposal to close Wingfield House, in Commercial Road.

Next month HMRC will decide whether to close the office and move its staff to Lynx House in Cosham from 2014.

But politicians and union members say this will lead to job losses – as the north Portsmouth office already contains around 800 employees – and will move much-needed employment out of the city centre.

Proposing the motion, Lib Dem transport spokesman Cllr Jason Fazackarley said if HMRC got its way the city would be left with just one tax office.

‘It would take away from Portsmouth the only tax enquiry office in the south of the city,’ he said.

‘If it closes it will be a huge blow to Portsmouth’s local businesses and obviously the staff of Wingfield House themselves.

‘This is exactly the sort of thing that we as a council should be doing to protect the city centre. It is just not defensible to reduce this city down to one tax office.’

Dave Hansford, PCS union branch organiser, said: ‘If Wingfield House is closed, this will have an adverse effect on HMRC customers, as many are elderly or economically deprived.

‘There is no guarantee that the enquiry centre will be left in the city centre and there is the possibility that pensioners and mothers claiming tax credits will need to travel to Cosham to obtain help.’

But Cllr Malcolm Hey, who has been deselected by his party and will be standing down at the next election, raised the sole objection to the motion.

He said: ‘I imagine HMRC has found better ways of working over the years, such as filling out online tax returns.

‘I do understand the concerns raised, but looking at the bigger picture, these cuts are having to be made in so many areas – just as we have had to make cuts on the city council we would have preferred not to have to do.’

An HMRC spokeswoman said a decision had not been taken but office closures would not reduce the quality of customer service.

She said: ‘We continue to provide face-to-face services for customers where needed and our enquiry centre at Lynx House is open five days a week.’