Monday 20 August 2012

If At First You Don't Succeed

As I noted last week, both HMRC and the ICAEW were cock-a-hoop with themselves over Lin Homer's statement (delivered with a loud fanfare) that HMRC may be "investing up to" £34M and may be placing "up to" another 1,000 staff in HMRC's beleaguered call centres:
"HMRC have with great fanfare and naive approval of the ICAEW attempted some diversionary tactics by announcing a reallocation (HMRC calls it "investment") of "up to" £34M and a possible extra 1,000 personnel into their call centres. "
Many, including myself, are somewhat cynical about this rearrangement of the deckchairs and whether it will actually be effective.

Over the weekend my little grey cells were stirred to life with the memory of something that happened in March 2011, on the watch of Homer's predecessor the late Lesley Strathie.

Here is an extract of a transcript of evidence given to the Treasury Committee on 16 March 2011 by Strathie.

Can you spot the similarity between what she promised to do, and what Homer has just promised to do?
"Q217 Andrea Leadsom: That is very reassuring. It would certainly be very helpful to have some information on what you target and what you are achieving against those targets.
Can you talk us through your stated intention to recruit 1,000 extra contact centre staff between April and September to deal with volumes? Is that happening already? Where are you going to recruit those people from? How will they be trained?
Lesley Strathie: We will recruit them, first and foremost, from staff who require redeployment from other areas of the business, where that is shrinking. One of the things we have done in response to staff morale is to remove all the barriers right across the department to people applying from one business line to another. We think that will probably attract about 25% of those posts. The other 75% we will recruit using the Government’s job-broking agency, Jobcentre Plus, as the main deliverer of those people.

Q218 Andrea Leadsom: How will they be trained?
Lesley Strathie: We have very specific training for contact centre staff. It has been a fairly ring-fenced part of the business since HMRC started to move work to the telephone.

Q219 Andrea Leadsom: You don’t have any concerns about the quality of the call centre training?
Lesley Strathie: Yes, I have a lot of concerns because we have so many different business lines and, in its history, the department has constantly moved things on to the telephone. The purpose of bringing these 1,000 people in is because we moved the renewals of tax credits, which is an annual process when we need to establish that people are still entitled and calculate the final award, and because of that peak business on the telephone. 
While we want to make sure that the customers that have suffered through the stabilisation of PAYE don’t get a deteriorating service, we feel we have to meet that peak, which is through July. So we need to bring them in and train them, but we will be training these staff on specific areas of business, not right across the whole 14 lines."
Yes, that's right, she promised to "recruit" an additional 1,000 staff!

A few questions spring to mind:

- Were these people ever recruited?

- If so, where were they recruited from?

- Did they need a high level of training?

- Did they really add value to the call centre performance?

- Why does HMRC think that another 1,000 will resolve the issue, if the previous 1,000 did not?

- What is the definition of insanity?

I'll give you a clue to the last question:

It's repeating an action (that has in the past failed), in the deluded expectation that this time it will work!

Tax does have to be taxing.

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  1. Lol. Also, where is the money coming from? The Treasury aren't giving them an extra £34 million so what's to be cut?

  2. Ah Glasshopper, all will be revealed to those who tread the sacred path of truth.
    Said with conviction even the most obvious of lies has credibility when put before the unbeliever.
    Those that lie about the smaller truths will not hesitate to conceal that which is more despicable.
    Put simply, trust nothing this lot say unless independant proof is in place to support their contention, they have been caught out lying before remember.

  3. Smoke 'n' mirrors
    Insiders have stated more than once on these pages that working in an HMRC call centre is a very poor experience for those having to undertake it. No doubt a lot of the pressure comes from Idiots In Power, Lean, Pacesetter or whatever the next chapter of the Emperors New Clothes is called.

  4. These 1k people recruited 2 years ago have had their contracts extended to the max 23 months available. They can't be extended any longer, the new 1k people will simply be replacing the 1k people who they cant keep on. The net result is no greater number of staff into HMRC