Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)|
12 OCTOBER 2005
Q120 Susan Kramer: Looking at the
corporate responsibility committee you have set up internally,
I notice you do not have a disability champion, and I wonder what
you are going to do about disability. You will be conscious of
the fact that many disabled people are part of the tax credits
Mr Varney: Absolutely.
Q121 Susan Kramer: There is a feeling
out in the field that many of your people are willing to try to
be responsive to those who have a disability but they do not have
the training or expertise or technical knowledge to do so. There
is concern about the absence of a champion. You probably know
the language in some of the tax legislation which is so outdated
in its definition of incapacity. I do not want to repeat that
here, but it has not yet been brought into line with the Disability
Act. Are you considering putting in a champion for disability
issues, looking both internally and externally?
Mr Varney: We are considering
the best way of improving our performance in diversity. I took
on the role of diversity champion. We have more disabled staff
as a percentage than the Cabinet Office target. I am not celebrating:
that is what we have. And you are absolutely right: we deal with
a community which has people who are disabled; we need to make
our services accessible and available to people with disability.
Our performance in terms of women and black minority ethnics is
not as good as it should be and we are working hard to improve
that in the feeder grades, but the specific arrangements we make
for how to get these issues to get the focus is one on which we
are debating what the right thing to do is. We have participated
in the corporate responsibility index; we were the first government
department to benchmark ourselves against Business in the Community's
private companies. We came in at 97so we were in their
top 100and we were seventh out of all the public sector
organisations in the Race for Opportunity benchmark. So we are
keen to benchmark ourselves. We are keen to improve. I would be
the first one to admit there is a lot more to be done.
Q122 Susan Kramer: In terms of your
client base, do you have any concerns about someone taking specific
responsibility to look at that? Again, the language within some
of the legislation, which would shake us up today, is so inappropriate
that it seems something more systemic is required.
Mr Varney: Yes, I have every sympathy
with that. I have just recruited three non-execs to the board
of HMRC: two of them have visual impairment. That was not because
we went out looking for people with disability; it was because
we went out looking for talented people and these were the most
talented people we could find. They will bring, I think, an added
focus on this issue in the boardroom.
Q123 Susan Kramer: Perhaps I could
follow up by letter, to try to find out what you do with the community
on the ground.
Mr Varney: I am happy to do that.
We have scored our website in terms of accessibility. We have
tried to proof a number of the visiting sites. I am happy to receive
your letter and I am happy to reply.
Q124 Chairman: Perhaps you could
let us have a letter on what you are doing in that area.
Mr Varney: Okay.
Q125 Kerry McCarthy: On the issue of
diversity, the Cabinet Office has set fairly challenging targets
for 2008. Are you trying to meet the same targets?
Mr Varney: Yes. We start behind
in terms of women. Their target is 35% and we are somewhere around
20/22%, so we have a long way to goand that is in the SCS,
the senior civil service. The position is more encouraging if
you look at fast streamers. We have gone from a position in 2001
where 14% of our fast streamers were women. This year, 69% of
our fast streamers were women. We may have succeeded to excess.
But we have to change the nature and makeup of the organisation.
On black minority ethnics we have a target to get us up to 3.2%.
I would say we are somewhere around the 1.7/1.8%, so we have a
lot of work to do. But fast streamers is encouraging. About 10%
of the fast streamers coming in are black minority ethnic and
we are running summer schools to try to explain what we get up
to, what our business is and that it is a great place to come
and work and to make a contribution to the society.
Q126 Kerry McCarthy: That sounds
like good news.
Mr Varney: It could be better.
Q127 Kerry McCarthy: The previous
head of Revenue was responsible for diversity issues across the
civil service. Is that what you mean?
Mr Varney: No, I have done it
internally. I fully salute Nick's achievements in what he has
done across the service, but I have spent the last year absolutely
determined to get this business delivering what it is supposed
to deliver while we do the merger. It has been my preoccupation.
Q128 Jim Cousins: Of the 16,000 job
cuts you are aiming at, how many will be in the field of tax credits?
Mr Varney: I do not know. Our
target which was set for us in the Spending Review was 16,000
gross and 12,500 net. 3,500 will be deployed to front line services,
so it is 12,500 reduction. Now we have the organisation up, we
are looking to see in detail what are plans are. We will look
at the areas in which we can make savings and deliver the customer
service. We have to deliver a customer service that is expected.
Q129 Jim Cousins: So you do not know
where the 12,500 net job cuts are coming from. Can you tell me
how many of them you plan to be in the field of tax credits?
Mr Varney: No. We have so far
saved about 2,300 jobs.
Q130 Jim Cousins: Can you tell me
how many people who work in the field of tax credits work overtime?
Mr Varney: I cannot personally.
Mr Gray: I cannot give you a figure.
We can let you have that figure.
Q131 Jim Cousins: Could you let us
have that figure and let us know whether the figures are going
up or down.
Mr Gray: Sure.
Q132 Jim Cousins: In the Ombudsman report,
there is an indication that the number of people dealing with
complaints in tax credits had more than doubled in a year.
Mr Varney: Yes, we move people
around to where we have problems. That is what we have done. We
have prioritised. I have to make priorities, so I move people
from one place to another. Yes, we move people into new tax credits
to do this. The target that we have been set is by 2008. We have
been describing to you earlier on our commitment to try to improve
the efficiency and effectiveness of new tax credits in its delivery.
As we become more efficient and effective, we would expect to
look at that service to see what is the right size for it, what
is the right sort of people base in it. It is not just a case
of throwing bodies at it. It is competent, trained people operating
an IT system which works well.
Q133 Jim Cousins: I would expect
you to know, in a field that is heavily overstressed like tax
credits, what the level of overtime is and whether that is going
up or down. I would have thought that was basic management information.
Mr Varney: It is basic management
Q134 Jim Cousins: The basic management
information you have there does not include something as significant
as what the levels of overtime are in a field like tax credits
or whether they are going up or down.
Mr Gray: Right. I assume that
the basic point you are getting at is to what extent we have put
additional resource into seeking to resolve the difficulties around
tax credits we have discussed. I was not able to give you off
the top of my head the overtime figure. I can tell you that we
have moved significant numbers of additional staff from other
duties in the department onto various aspects of tax credits work,
so, in that sense, we have been adjusting the resource use.
Q135 Jim Cousins: No doubt you could
get the figures for us.
Mr Varney: Yes.
Q136 Jim Cousins: Because there is every
indication that your staff are under a great deal of stress.
Mr Varney: Indeed.
Q137 Jim Cousins: You reported a
net reduction of 1,045 posts in your Spring Departmental Report.
Could you tell us what that figure now is? Does that figure include
anyone who worked in the field of tax credits?
Mr Varney: It is about 2,300.
I do not think it includes anybody in new tax credits, but I am
quite willing to
Mr Gray: The number of people
currently working on all aspects of tax credits is now larger
than it was on 1 April 2004. So that overall reduction of 2,350
across the department as a whole is, as it were, net of some increase
in resource that we have diverted into seeking to address some
of the tax credits issues we have discussed.
Q138 Jim Cousins: Within the overall
pattern of net staff reductions in the field of tax credits, there
is a contrary process of staff increases.
Mr Gray: There has been up to
this point. A significant part has been, as David Varney was saying,
addressing, if you like, the symptoms of the difficulties we are
addressing around complaints and around overpayments. Our commitment,
our ambition, over this period to 2008, as we bring through the
improvements we have been talking about, is to get a much bigger
proportion of the staff on tax credits dealing with the underlying
system and less resource employed in dealing with the difficulties
which we aim to remove.
Q139 Jim Cousins: If you introduce
a system of manual suspension of overpayments what are the staff
Mr Gray: There will be some increase.
A big variable here which has affected our staff deployment over
the last few months is what, if any, implication that would have
for the number of disputed overpayment cases that we needed to
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