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“What has the Prime Minister got against towns in North Wales?” – Local MP asks PM May about tax office closure

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Wednesday, Feb 13th, 2019.

Wrexham’s MP Ian Lucas raised the question of the Wrexham tax office closure at Prime Minister’s Questions today, highlighting what he says is a lack of commitment by the UK Government to towns in North Wales.

About 270 staff are currently employed by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in an office on Wrexham Technology Park, and it is claimed the closure move will effectively force staff to relocate or lose their jobs.

The office has been threatened with closure since 2015, when HMRC announced plans to centralise operations into 13 ‘hubs’ in the UK’s biggest cities. We are told back in 2015 around 400 skilled roles were in place, however since the announcement the total employed has been ‘whittled down’.

Despite the efforts of unions and Mr Lucas, HMRC confirmed last week that the Wrexham office will close at the end of September 2020. Staff are being offered the chance to move to hubs in Liverpool or Cardiff, or a smaller specialist site in Telford which is being kept open.

Speaking at PMQs, Mr Lucas said: “”What has the Prime Minister got against towns in North Wales? In the week following the loss of a £20bn Hitachi contract in the region (for the Wylfa nuclear power station project), the government she leads announced the moving of hundreds of Wrexham tax office jobs to Liverpool or Cardiff city centre.

“Is it her view that towns across the UK should not have public sector jobs?”

Theresa May made no reference to the tax office closure in her reply, focusing on the Wylfa nuclear power station site. PM May said: “No it is not. On Hitachi and the Wylfa site, we offered a package of support that no previous Government had been willing to consider of one third equity, all-debt financing and a strike price of no more than £75 per MWh.

“Ultimately, we could not at that stage reach an agreement among all the parties, and Hitachi decided on a commercial basis to suspend the project, but it has made clear that it wishes to continue discussions with the Government on bringing forward new nuclear at Wylfa, and we will support those discussions.”

Speaking outside the Chamber, Mr Lucas described the government’s decision was one of the worst he has seen in 18 years as an MP.

He added: “HMRC’s shifting of tax offices away from local towns into larger city centres flies in the face of balanced, sensible government and is a body blow to towns suffering from empty high streets, reduced bus services and evidence of young people moving away to city centres to seek work.

“The Prime Minister needs to think about those people in towns right across the UK and change the ridiculous decision to shift jobs and services to city centres who need the investment less.”

The PCS union has been critical of the plans, saying it would impact negatively on the service their workers could provide for the public. Staff from offices in Wrexham, Liverpool, Bootle and Warrington are due to move in to the Liverpool hub in the India Buildings by the end of June 2020.

However, it appears there may now be a need to keep one of the existing HMRC offices in Liverpool or Bootle open beyond 2020.

Gareth Edwards, a PCS union rep based at the Wrexham office, said: “Although this announcement brings some clarity for the majority of our members in Wrexham who will be unable to move to Liverpool, it is disappointing that HMRC continues blindly with its ‘estates transformation’ programme.

“The fact that a second office is being retained in Liverpool while Wrexham is still earmarked for closure rubs further salt in the wounds for members.

“PCS is opposed to the closure of Wrexham office and does not think that HMRC’s work can be delivered from just 13 regional offices.”

Mr Lucas has campaigned to keep the Wrexham office open, noting his previous meeting with shadow treasury minister Anneliese Dodds and PCS union reps to discuss the closure plans in Wrexham last August.

Below, the exchange in PMQ’s today:

Top pic: As we watched the exchange on Sky News.

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