Further embarrassment was dished out to Concentrix yesterday, as a select committee of MPs investigating its collosal failure to deliver on a £75m HMRC contract decided that both HMRC and Concentrix were guilty of “gross failures”.
Commenting on the report Yesterday, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka, said the report was a “harrowing assessment of the utter failure of this contract” going on to add that it showed “why the pursuit of private profit has no place in the running of our public services.”
Earlier in the year, HMRC was forced to publicly renege on its three year contract with the US based firm, after two years of IT failures and mishandled claims fuelled media opposition to the contract. The Contract’s original acquisition by Concentrix in 2014, and the subsequent announcement of 100s of jobs in Belfast, where welcomed by many newspaper columnists and politicians. Many of these people have been forced to keep their tails between their legs, such was the size and scale of the failure.
A Brief History of the Contract
The contract was awarded in mid 2014 and the company immediately began hiring staff ahead of commencing work in August of that year. Problems existed from the get go, from training sessions from non HMRC personal that some participants described as instilling a “anti poor, anti benefits” mentality; to a three month long IT failure that meant huge numbers of staff were paid 75% of their wage to stay at home.
When work commenced in November 2014, staff were focusing on opening cases for investigation and Concentrix was very keen for as many cases to be opened and followed through as possible, as any savings made from these cases went towards their £1bn contractual target and earned them profits.
This thirst for profits meant that many people’s claims were scrutinised for no valid reason, staff often had to deal with people the system had (rather obviously) mistaken as being in an undeclared relationship with their 16 year old children, or former tenants who were deceased. The backlog of claims to be evaluated was that large that they were being suspended en masse in March 2015, just before the end of the tax year – with no evaluations made or letters sent, leading to 100s, maybe even 1000s, losing their tax credits for no valid reason.
90% of all appeals weighed on the side of the claimant, the contract was a disaster but given the timing of its tender, around the time the Tory government tried to undermine PCS by removing the “check off” system for member’s subs, it wouldn’t be a wild stretch of the imagination to see that HMRC’s decision to award this contract was based on Concentrix’s strong anti-union stance rather than any suggestions of genuine efficiency or service delivery.
Many Concentrix employees were on very flimsy, temporary contracts but this didn’t stop many from showing support for PCS’ recruitment drives outside the workplace. Concentrix quickly established an ‘internal forum’ for staff to give their grievances to a member of HR, unsurprisingly the genuine concerns of staff over the deplorable service delivery, terrible IT systems and meat grinder approach of management towards staff, were never taken seriously by senior management, despite their constant comforting assurances that the internal forum was like “your very own union”.
The radical literature published by the PCS meant that issues surrounding staff well being and claimant needs never strayed too far from the agenda, knowing they couldn’t control outsiders leafleting outside, Concentrix decided to turn the screw on suspected organisers inside the building. impossible targets and bullying from management forced organisers to find an exit, some where threatened with dismissal for not adhering to Dickensian measurements of claimant entitlements.
Over a year later, and PCS has the last laugh having won 100s of staff positions within HMRC, cleaning up the aftermath of the Concentrix debacle. Not only was the contract withdrawn, but the jobs were eventually brought ‘in house’ a few weeks after the contract was pulled.
A Nail in the Coffin of Privatisation
“The Concentrix scandal should not just spell the end of the privatisation of tax credits work in HMRC, it should be the final nail in the coffin for the hiving off of our welfare state” – Mark Serwotka PCS General Secretary
The report published by MPs is the final act in a play that has embarassed a weak Tory government, proving beyond doubt that privatisation was a disaster for both claimants and staff. Further more it has shown that trade unionism that fights on the streets can yield victories for staff and service users.
This isn’t to say that the fight is over, PCS now has the task of winning the Concentrix staff the terms and conditions of their fellow HMRC staff for doing the same job. With the winds of many recent victories behind them, PCS is certainly on the front foot in this continued battle between them and HMRC.