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An established process for managers and staff to discuss options for their future employment, dependent on the outcome of the review, is open, transparent and accessible to the trade unions. I encourage my hon. Friends to consider the experience of staff in areas where the process has taken place and where a fair effort was made to meet the concerns and aspirations of staff who were affected.

Turning to Sunderland and the sustained case that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South and the organisations to which he referred, not least the local authority, the proposals to rationalise work and office space throughout Sunderland, Washington and Newcastle were put forward for consultation earlier this year. Staff, trade unions, Members of Parliament and local authorities all contributed to that consultation. Information on travel routes, economic interests in the locations—that is important—the position of other employers and Departments, as well as individual circumstances, will be taken into account. A report summarising those main responses was published in June, and we have listened to the further reaction to the report. I acknowledge the strong representations and I am aware of my hon. Friends’ concerns.

Turning to the jobs that were created in 2005, as recently as 17 September this year the Sunderland Echo carried the story that Northern Rock may be unable to carry through its plans to bring a further 1,500 jobs to the area as a result of its recent difficulties. My hon. Friends’ concerns are real, and I do not wish to minimise them in any way.

Mr. Mullin: The two responses that I quoted—one from the chief executive and one from the head of the arc—have come in since June, so they are not part of the document published in June, to which the Minister referred.

Jane Kennedy: I am aware of that, but their representations have been taken into account and considered as part of the review process. All the information that was provided during that consultation and since has been considered and will be reconsidered during the remaining week.

I want to take the opportunity briefly to outline some of the factors that have been considered. The three offices in Sunderland—two in the city centre and one on the outskirts—accommodate some 900 staff in total. Throughout the entire urban centre, HMRC expect to need approximately 4 per cent. fewer staff than they currently employ by 2010. That contrasts with a net reduction through efficiencies that we are requiring HMRC to achieve of around 25 per cent. since it was created. That is a measure of the high level of efficiency that already applies in the areas that we are discussing today.

Public sector jobs in Sunderland increased by more than 8,500, or 33 per cent., between 1997 and 2005. An analysis of the individual travel times for staff suggests a high degree of mobility between existing sites in the
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area that might allow staff to commute between them. In proposing to move to an efficient structure—notwithstanding my hon. Friend’s comments about the purpose-built building that is being considered for closure—HMRC is confident that the majority of staff can be relocated with their own or similar work nearby. Overall, HMRC estimates that it has up to 40 per cent. too much accommodation throughout the UK, and the position is no different in this area.

I well understand the concerns of people who work in the area about the extra travelling time that might be involved for some if they are relocated to different offices, the availability of transport links from their homes, including private transport, and the A1. I would like to reassure the Chamber that individual members of staff will have the opportunity to discuss their circumstances with managers before any decision is taken on their suitability to relocate, and that that will be backed by a trade union supported appeal process.

Throughout the programme, senior management in HMRC are committed to being open with staff, to explaining the options available to individuals and to exploring how their expectations can be matched with the need to make the operations more efficient. However, I want to make it clear that those are not easy decisions, and they can be made only when all the facts are known.

With the exception of one year, I have been in government for nearly 10 years, and in almost every Department in which I have worked I have had to rationalise to some extent the estate for which I was responsible, so I am battle-scarred from dealing with those processes. I understand how traumatic they can be, and you may be amazed, Dr. McCrea, to learn that when I was first in the Lord Chancellor’s Department, local magistrates courts suddenly became popular when proposals were made for them to be closed. I was the responsible Minister then. I appreciate hon. Members’ concerns and I have a lot confidence in what I have seen of the process being followed in HMRC. The staff taking it forward are to be commended.

When decisions have been announced in this location, as elsewhere, HMRC will begin the process of relocation and release of its surplus accommodation according to the decision. That process will take some time, as individual cases and contractual commitments must be reviewed. As individual buildings are identified for closure, HMRC will publish an individual building impact assessment covering customers, staff, local communities and local diversity. HMRC is keen to match those skills and experience with its aims of achieving a more efficient operation and improving customer service. I welcome this debate as part of the Department’s commitment to the process of consultation and openness. It is a long-term programme that will deliver a more responsive and efficient service for taxpayers and claimants, and I know that in the long run, my hon. Friends want us to achieve that.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes past Five o’clock.

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