Inland Revenue to lose 12,000 jobs in `massive' cuts

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The Government yesterday disclosed that more than 12,000 Inland Revenue jobs will be axed over the next seven years as fears spread through Whitehall that ministers were planning a "nightmare scenario" involving hundreds of thousands of redundanc ies in the Civil Service.

Right-wing advisers to the Government have proposed that the 500,000-strong service should be reduced to a core of fewer than 50,000 who would buy in services from the private sector.

Cuts envisaged in the recent Civil Service White Paper mean at least 50,000 redundancies in the next year or so and the Council of Civil Service Unions yesterday predicted that many more could be on the way.

A spokesman for the council said the "massive" cuts would be achieved through reduced services and privatisation and that announcements of cuts would come in a "drip feed" over the next few months.

Sir Anthony Battishill, chairman of the Inland Revenue, said the department's 54,000 workforce would be reduced by 6,000 over the next three years. He also warned that the aim was to cut the number of employees to between 42,000 and 44,000 by the year 2002. Around 3,000 more jobs are to go from the evaluation departments.

Clive Brooke, general secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation, told Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, that each IR employee could collect enough money to pay for his or her salary and make a profit for the Treasury. "But he didn't want to know. It's clearly all about dogma," Mr Brooke said.

Mr Brooke told a press conference in London yesterday that the job cuts would mean lower tax collection and said that the Government had had to "write off" £1.6bn in 1993, partly because of a reduction in personnel.

The Chancellor told Mr Brooke that he could not rule out compulsory redundancies. Tax-collection staff and middle managers would bear the brunt. Mr Clarke pointed out that out of 10,000 job losses over the past three years, only 84 were compulsory.

Jim McAuslan, deputy general secretary of the union, estimated that job losses in the department could exceed 15,000 over the next seven years. He said the fresh redundancies would be achieved through "stripping out" a whole layer of middle management and staff involved in efficiency improvements and market-testing.

Mr McAuslan said that "quality control" and supervision would be forfeited and that therefore the public would probably have to put up with increased error rates.

The union's leadership said that members would have to accept a severance deal approved with management or take industrial action. An initial ballot will be held on the proposed deal later this month, followed by a strike vote if necessary.

The leadership was angry that management had allegedly refused to consult over the plans and instead informed the union the day before the announcement was made. "Our members are very angry and they are also very nervous," Mr Brooke said.