THE announcement by HMRC that it intends to close 137 local offices and replace them with 13 regional centres throughout the country is not in itself a bad decision. With everyone having to tighten their belts and cut costs, it makes sense to rationalise office space where possible, and I would always prefer to protect jobs than to protect buildings when it ever comes down to a choice.
However, their decision to base the Yorkshire regional hub in Leeds, rather than in the Bradford district, is wrong-headed and something that I cannot support. My constituency of Shipley is home to a large tax office which currently employs 924 staff, and throughout the Bradford district, HMRC employs 2,300 people. Therefore, whilst my top priority is to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the people in my constituency, I believe that this decision to base the regional hub in Leeds is not only bad for the local economy but also bad for taxpayers.
HMRC’s starting point in any such decision should be to produce the best value for money for the taxpayer. However, in this specific case, the proposal is to locate a regional hub in a place that will be more expensive for the taxpayer than a very feasible alternative in Bradford.
Instead of moving to Leeds, it would be far more cost effective for the regional hub to be based in Bradford. Office accommodation costs in Bradford are at least 20 per cent lower than those in Leeds – a prime consideration.
Furthermore, whilst a suitable site has not even been identified in Leeds yet, a perfectly suitable site is already available in Bradford – close to the centre with excellent nearby public transport links. How can HMRC clearly state they will move to the centre of Leeds without any idea of where they can and will go? Even if they are lucky enough to find a suitable site, the fact that they have already announced they are moving to Leeds means that they are in a very poor negotiating position because the landowner will have them over a barrel.
As I have already highlighted, a large number of the affected staff already work and live within the Bradford district and would therefore have to travel further to get to work if the new regional centre is located in Leeds. Anybody who uses the trains knows that Leeds station is already at breaking point and the last thing it needs is additional congestion during the rush hour. Trains into Leeds are already massively overcrowded. Given that the roads are already a nightmare, the logistics of many thousands of extra people fighting to get into Leeds in a morning has clearly not been thought through.
I have been told that one of the reasons for the decision to choose Leeds over Bradford is because it will be easier to recruit top quality staff. Not only is this incredibly insulting to Bradford, but it is also utter bunkum. There are many examples of companies throughout the Bradford district that are leading the way in many fields. For example, Saltaire, in my constituency, contains one of the most technologically-advanced businesses in the country, Pace International. It is the biggest provider of set-top boxes in the world, and it has achieved that – and recruited seriously impressive staff – from its base in the Bradford district.
It seems the decision to move the regional centre to Leeds has been made by people who do not know the local area, and is proof of the lazy work by HMRC who have simply just chosen the biggest place in every region for their hub rather than considering the most cost-effective and sensible location. To me. this decision seems only to satisfy the convenience of London-based HMRC staff for when they venture up north.
It is also clear that the more advanced economy of Leeds can perfectly easily fill any office and retail space with private sector investment. It is incredible that a Conservative Government should want to crowd out that private sector investment with a huge tax office.
For Bradford, on the other hand, the footfall that this regional hub could provide for shops and other businesses would make the city a much more attractive place for additional private sector investment which it so badly needs.
That is why there is such a compelling case for HMRC’s regional hub to be based in Bradford rather than Leeds. I am working hard with the other Bradford district MPs and Bradford Council across the political spectrum to try to persuade HMRC and the Government to change their decision, and we will all give it our best shot to do the best for the hard working employees of HMRC, for the Bradford district and for the taxpayers as a whole.
George Osborne needs to know that an effective Northern Powerhouse must not favour Leeds over the needs of the Bradford district.
Philip Davies is the Conservative MP for Shipley.