THE UK Government’s embattled tax agency is under fire for putting pressure on employees to score the organisation highly in its internal staff survey.
A manager at HMRC linked good marks to future investment at his office, while the head of the tax avoidance unit urged colleagues against using the survey as a “protest vote”.
HMRC has a crucial function in collecting the country’s tax revenue and clamping down on the tens of billions of pounds lost every year through tax evasion and avoidance.
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However, despite the agency’s critical role in maximising public funds, HMRC has lost thousands of jobs in recent years to plug funding shortfalls. In Scotland, around 2,000 posts could go as the organisation rationalises its network of offices.
A new staff survey was completed recently and its contents are expected to make grim reading for HMRC decision-makers.
Emails obtained by the Sunday Herald reveal managers have been encouraging staff to grade HMRC positively, in contrast to previous surveys.
A senior manager in Dundee emailed his colleagues last month: “I really need your support to not only encourage colleagues to complete the survey but to also promote the reasons why completion and scoring highly are important.”
He also explicitly linked the results to future resources at the site: “Senior leaders will use the results to judge how engaged we are and this can play a part when looking at investment in terms of resources and new work – selecting highly-engaged sites for new opportunities would suggest the greatest chance for success.”
Dave Richardson, the director of HMRC’s counter-avoidance directorate, also contacted staff last month: “I know it can be tempting to use the Survey as a protest vote. But to be able to respond to your concerns, and ensure that your successes and commitment are recognised, it is most helpful to me in representing Counter-Avoidance if you use the range of scores, without over- or under-egging.”
He continued: “For instance, most people in Counter-Avoidance go the extra mile. But in last year's survey less than 30 per cent of people said that they were inspired to do their best in their job, or were motivated to help achieve the Department's objectives."
In another email, a staff member alleged that team leaders had been told to use chocolates as an inducement when employees filled out the survey.
In 2012, it was revealed that a leaked consultant’s report revealed a “disconnect between employees and the overall organisation”.
It added: “Many employees feel that the organisation as a whole neither values, listens to, nor respects them."
Labour MP Ian Murray said: "These surveys should be anonymous and be an honest appraisal from staff. It would be completely unacceptable if staff were being put under pressure during these surveys, and HMRC should clarify that is not happening."
A spokesperson for HMRC said: "Workforce planning and our future locations are categorically not determined or even influenced by feedback from our People Survey. We want our staff to be completely open and honest in their responses and anything that suggests otherwise is wrong”.