Senior officials from Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenues – HMRC – were in Croydon on Wednesday visiting the Ruskin Square development as a potential office location for a new tax supercentre.
The Government announced yesterday a plan to close 170 HMRC offices around the country – many of them Local VAT offices – to save £100 million a year by axing thousands of jobs from the tax staff, who are to be re-organised into 13 regional centres. Croydon could be the first of those, planned to open in April 2017.
Five years ago, when he was first seeking election, Gavin Barwell, the Tory MP for Croydon Central, promised to bring government departments to Croydon to help boost the local economy. Until yesterday, he had singularly failed to deliver on his promise.
Even Barwell gave an indication of his failure when he tweeted a link to the news: “Finally,” he, or whoever it is operating his Twitter account these days, said, “some progress on relocating public sector jobs to Croydon – very encouraging news.”
In fact, the HMRC move to Croydon, with up to 2,800 staff expected to be based in the tax mega-office, is just the latest example of the jobs “swings and roundabouts” in the borough. Many of those working at HMRC’s offices in Croydon will be existing civil servants, re-deployed from the 170 branch offices facing closure, including the current Croydon LVO housed just behind the Travelodge, or from HMRC offices in Whitehall and The City.
The decision will benefit the developers, whether Ruskin Square’s investors Stanhope and Schroders, or the owners of any of the other office blocks which the government department may choose. HMRC could prove a very expedient replacement for Metro Bank at Ruskin Square, after a deal for the rapidly expanding high street bank to move to the site collapsed, leaving no anchor tenant for prestigious offices beside East Croydon Station, and which is costing £50 million to build.
But the HMRC decision certainly will not create “thousands of jobs” in Croydon, as was suggested in some reports yesterday and was parroted gleefully by council leader Tony Newman, just as the council was informing its own staff that it is about to cut up to 600 Town Hall jobs.
And the reality check goes on. Croydon was chosen not because it is a “hip” or “happening” place, with over-priced coffee shops populated by hipsters in bicycle clips. Croydon was selected, according to HMRC, because it is cheap.
Or, as the increasingly delusional or desperate (delete as appropriate) Tony Newman, Labour’s council leader, would have it, “It is another sign of growing confidence in Croydon.”
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