City asked to help taxman during strike

THE government plans to call in City tax experts to help break a possible strike by tax collectors over spending cuts, it emerged yesterday.

Ministers are understood to have asked officials to set up a unit of specialists to move in if taxmen take industrial action over cuts planned in the October spending review.

Chancellor George Osborne is thought to be demanding 10 per cent savings from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) on top of more than 30,000 job losses imposed since the department was created in 2005.

Ministers are thought to be keen to get tough with HMRC following chaos over miscalculation of tax owed by some 5.7m taxpayers.

The fiasco has left an estimated 1.4m people facing bills potentially running into thousands of pounds.

But the main trade union representing staff at HMRC, the Public & Commercial Services (PCS) union, has warned of possible action if the cuts go ahead.

A PCS spokesman said the government should be talking to the union about taking on staff rather than proposing more reductions.

He said the union was concerned about consultants being brought in to handle private tax data.

“We have seen from the PAYE fiasco what happens when you don’t have enough staff to do the job,” he said.

“We would be concerned if very sensitive information that requires experienced staff to handle it was to be farmed out willy-nilly. If they come for even more jobs, we would need to consider an industrial response.”

The government said all departments had contingency plans to deal with any disruption caused by strikes.

The Treasury yesterday said it had not taken any final decisions on measures to be included in the spending review, although a spokesman warned HMRC would have to make savings like any other government departments.