News of Customs office closure met with dismay

October 20, 2014

The announcement on Thursday that the Revenue and Customs (HMRC) office in Newry is to close next year with the loss of almost 100 jobs cast a shadow over the more positive news permeating the city jobs’ front this week (and reported elsewhere in this paper).

HMRC confirmed the closure of Newry, along with 13 other offices, as part of its wider restructuring plan, saying they “no longer fitted with medium to long term business plans.”

Hopes that the 93 staff employed in the Carnbane-based branch will be deployed elsewhere within the Civil Service appear, at least at this stage, remote.

MP for the area, Conor Murphy, says the closure will have a huge impact on the local economy and questioned the accuracy of the staff consultation process.

“HMRC said that they carried out a consultation with staff but it did not meet the full equality requirements.  This closure will have a disproportionate effect on women from a nationalist background but this was not taken into account,” he said.

“The Newry office has been performing very well and the staff there are excellent so this closure does not make sense.”

Mr Murphy says he intends to challenge the Equality Commission that it is satisfied a full consultation process was carried out.

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley says the move, though not entirely unexpected, is “a devastating blow” for the area.

“From the outset the staff and their Union representatives have been deeply suspicious of HMRC’s intentions.  Indeed both Margaret Ritchie MP and I have been highlighting their concerns right throughout this process.  We believe their consultation process with staff has been deeply flawed and this decision will impact part-time and female workers the most,” Mr Bradley said.

Accusing HMRC of “adding insult to injury” by suggesting staff may be redeployed, he added: “They know that is not possible because of different employment statuses of HMRC staff and the Northern Ireland Civil Service.”

Announcing his intention to contact the Prime Minister David Cameron about the matter, he said, “I am extremely angry and deeply frustrated at this decision and indeed the way the whole process has been handled and for this reason Margaret Ritchie and I are seeking a meeting with David Cameron on this issue, he cannot speak out of both sides of his mouth.  In the one hand say he wants to support the Northern Ireland economy and in the other hand pull jobs out of Newry, his stance just doesn’t add up.”

Meanwhile Ulster Unionist MLA, Danny Kennedy, says he is “bitterly disappointed” describing it as “a very sad day indeed”.

“It is now incumbent on HMRC to make strenuous efforts to redeploy as many of the staff as possible within the civil service and to make proper provision for redundancy and training needs of those who cannot be found posts,” he stated