There are numerous mentions of our old friends at Mapeley and the significance of 2021.
I suspect that the word “Mapeley” will come up in the course of this debate, so let me touch on it. I referred earlier to the more than 700 offices formerly used by HMRC. Mapeley Estates snapped up more than 130 of them for its offshore property portfolio after loading itself up with debt in order to front up its side of this rotten charade with the then Government: 84% of the funding that Mapeley obtained to acquire that lucrative contract came in the form of loans. That shabby deal with a shabby company comes to an end in 2021. For the privilege of renting publicly built offices sold off for a song, HMRC will have the right to occupy buildings, with leases based on market terms” after that date. That is very generous of Mapeley.
I commend the National Audit Office on its 2009 report on the deal. It is redolent with phrases such as, “the Department has not achieved value for money…The Department did not fully appreciate the risks… The Department has not had strong processes to monitor the overall cost of the contract and whether it is achieving value for money”.
The Exchequer Secretary admitted to this House last year that the end life of the Mapeley contracts represented a “one-off opportunity to make this change to the estate footprint.”—[Official Report, 24 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1300.]
That is part of the truth behind the closures—a private finance initiative deal worth billions from the public purse, used to enrich a Bermuda-domiciled corporate entity, with the public left with nothing at the end of 20 years, except the right to sign a commercial lease.
I will end with the words of a PCS member and HMRC employee, my constituent Bobby Young, who is chair of the PCS Revenue and Customs branch:
“Whilst my branch welcomes the news of a slight increase of jobs in Glasgow, we absolutely oppose it if it comes at the cost of jobs elsewhere. Communities from Bathgate to Bootle will be devastated by these closures—that is not a price worth paying for the sake of a few extra jobs in Glasgow.”
If anyone should know about prices, it is an employee of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Sadly, it seems that their superiors know very little about value.
Chris Law (Dundee West) (SNP)
I recently discovered that the ownership of the leases of HMRC offices—this has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend—was transferred to a company called Mapeley in 2001. You could not make this up, Mr Deputy Speaker. Where is Mapeley based? In the Bahamas. That is right: HMRC pays rent to a company registered in a tax haven. To quote the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, this Government have scored a “massive own goal”. Who stands to profit from the sales of HMRC local offices? You guessed it: Mapeley again. Why not use local council offices that may be available, and then any profits from the rents would go straight to the Treasury?Tax does have to be taxing.
Stuart C. McDonald (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (SNP)
Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer some of our questions today, but I must emphasise that debates alone will not be enough. We need the people behind these proposals to come here to explain them directly to Parliament. That would allow Members to get stuck into the nuts and bolts and to get behind the management-speak and buzzwords that are too often passed off as answers. If that does not happen, staff and taxpayers will be left questioning whether HMRC is really “building our future”, as the glossy brochure states, or whether this is in fact a question of buildings forcing our future. It has already been pointed out that this is taking place in the context of the expiry of the extraordinary contracts that were entered into in 2001, when 600 or so properties were sold to the offshore company, Mapeley Steps, and then leased back, PFI-style, to HMRC. Those contracts expire in the years leading up to 2021. In the absence of answers to our questions, many will conclude that this is more about digging HMRC out of the hole that it jumped into in 2001, rather than being about any kind of strategy. That is the only conclusion open to us.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab)
Well, Minister, it’s all a bit of mess, isn’t it? I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) on securing the debate. He touched on staff morale, the workforce figures and the fact that there has been no ministerial statement. Along with several other hon. Members, he also mentioned the shameful Mapeley contract, signed—I am sad to say—by a Labour Government who did not realise at the time that it was an overseas company.
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