Unions plan strike as closure of city tax office agreed

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A UNION has said striking is the ‘only response’ to the planned closure of a tax office in Portsmouth city centre.

Yesterday HMRC told employees at one of Portsmouth’s two tax offices, Wingfield House in Commercial Road, that the office will close by March 31, 2015.

The decision to move workers to Lynx House, in Northern Road, Cosham, was made despite protests by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and Portsmouth City Council.

In a statement HMRC said that closing the office, which employs 550 people, was not about job losses and it is seeking to avoid compulsory redundancies.

But the chairman of Portsmouth’s PCS branch, Patrick Smyth, said Lynx House already contains 800 workers and does not have the space for more. He added that the union was balloting its members to see if they support strike action.

‘The work is there and our members want to provide a decent service to the public,’ he said.

‘But they are very angry that they are being told they are not working hard enough.’

He added that the closure of Wingfield House would mean more empty office space in the city centre.

‘At the moment it gives the city centre a vibrancy,’ he said. ‘We are going to have another 1970s-style office building sitting mostly empty. Given we are defending our members from losing their jobs while there is a double-dip recession, striking is the appropriate response – if not the only response.’

The closure is part of the government’s public sector spending review which will see 10,000 tax office jobs lost across the UK.

Lib Dem councillor Jason Fazackarley brought a motion to the city council earlier this year urging HMRC to keep the office open.

He said: ‘This is a bleak day for HMRC and I give my sympathies to the staff who will clearly be detrimentally affected by this decision.

‘I’m bitterly disappointed that the revenue doesn’t seem to have taken any notice of the concerns raised by the union, the city council and the staff themselves. Obviously they will not all be able to fit in Lynx House and people in the south of the city will have to travel a fair old way to get to it.’

An HMRC spokeswoman said the announcement was ‘about closing office accommodation, it is not about redundancies’.

She added: ‘HMRC will do everything it can to avoid compulsory redundancies.

‘Any office closures will not be detrimental to customer service. Most of our businesses are organised on national lines and few offices provide a specific service locally.

‘We continue to provide face-to-face services for customers who need that level of help.’