This Is Not A
Exit Stage: Left (Part 1)
This last week was always going to be an odd one.
But before I get to that, an overview: in November 2015, Her Majesty's Revenue And Customs (HMRC) announced that the office I worked in would be closed, with the expectation (on their part) that a large proportion of the three hundred or more staff there would transfer to a new, all-singing, all-dancing 'regional centre' in Liverpool.
In fact, this was bullshit from the start. There was neither the likelihood nor the possibility of more than a couple of dozen people finding it remotely practical to move, what with the extra travelling time involved (which wouldn't be compensated for in terms of hours 'on the job' or pay) and the disruption to the lives of their families. The Depratment's definition of 'reasonable daily travel' (RDT) was - and still is for now - one hour's travelling time each way to and from home and, what with the state of the transport networks hereabouts, that would effectively exclude just about everyone in the office who lived more than approximately three miles south of Chester or three or four miles south of the border just north of the Dee estuary.
This seemed to be lost on those making the decisions (in London, of course, where the assumption is always made that the huge advantages they have there in terms of transport infrastructure and other such privileges are replicated throughout 'the country'), and it took them some time to catch on. In fact, it took until the beginning of the redundancy and redeployment process last September before it seemed finally to hit home with them.
We were each required to have a 'one-to-one' discussion with our managers where we were, essentially, made to justify our claims that we were outside RDT. For those of us who are totally dependent upon public transport, this wasn't difficult to prove, but we had to provide a slew of documentary evidence in support anyway. In my case, this involved demonstrating by printouts of the bus and train timetables that it would take over an hour each way for me to get to and from the proposed regional centre at India Buildings not far from the Pier Head in Liverpool. Indeed, just the train part of the journey would take well over an hour, irrespective of which of the two routes would be taken; when the bus part was added in as well, the result was, "forget it".
Now, bear in mind that at this stage, we were being offered only two options; either move to Liverpool or move on to consideration for redeployment with some other Civil Service department. There was potentially a third option, especially for those of my colleagues who lived to the south of Wrexham, of whom there were a number because we had taken in the waifs and strays resulting from the earlier closures of the Depratment's offices in Welshpool and Oswestry; namely, a transfer to the offices located in Telford. However, this was ruled out by HMRC because, they claimed, there was no possibility of any staff moving there continuing to do the jobs they were already doing, because Telford only provided specialist functions for the Depratment, mostly nothing to do with taxes as such. All this becomes salient a little later, as you will see.
Anyway, our forms went off to HR in late October and came back with their decisions a few days later. In my own case, this merely confirmed the bloody obvious, and so on I went to the redeployment stage. This was due in early December, with a view to our getting a final decision by late January in order to have our leaving date confirmed as being the end of May.
And then, silence...
The first two weeks or so of December passed without either us or our managers hearing anything about redeployment or, indeed, anything else.
Then, exactly but exactly one week before Christmas, a couple of HR bods were dispatched to us and a couple of meetings were called (one for each 'wing' of the building; we were down to two because we had vacated the ground floor almost totally nearly two years before)...
...where we were told that, contrary to what we had been told earlier, Telford was now considered to be 'in scope', as they had decided that - at least in the short term - the jobs we had been doing here could be done there after all. All of which meant that, having been through the 'one-to-one' process already in respect of Liverpool, we would now have to go through an identical exercise from scratch vis-à-vis Telford.
The response to this was not so much 'icy' as 'off the bottom of the Kelvin scale'. I have never in all my years seen my colleagues so angry. Indeed, in one instance, I thought that one of them was going to have to be physically restrained from attacking the HR bod doing our meeting (who had, let it be said, a tin ear for the tenor of her message). The view was expressed by more than one of us - with a force of language which stopped only just this side of outright profanity - that we were being stitched up because the Depratment wanted to refuse redundancy to as many people as possible (they had claimed all along that this was simply because they didn't want to lose our expertise, but the reality is that they just didn't want to pay up; had they genuinely been concerned at the loss of a combined century or seven of experience, they wouldn't have considered closing the office in the first place).
In addition, there was another factor involved.
You see, back at the start of the Coalition régime in 2010, they had made changes to our redundancy scheme which, of course, made it somewhat worse than what had gone before (we had that 'deficit' to pay down, you will recall). The minister in charge at that time, Francis Maude, had then gone on the record as saying that the scheme in its new form would now be sustainable over the long term. Then, when Cameron got his unexpected - and possibly unwished for, given what was to follow - outright victory in 2015, the new administration decided that it was going to bugger it about again, making it of even less benefit to us. Our unions fought it in the courts and the bewigged ones for once came out on our side. The negotiations regarding any amended scheme were still going on at the time of the events I have described so far.
The thing was, we had been guaranteed that the 2010 provisions would apply, but only up until the end of December 2019. After that, no assurances could be given. The insistence on the whole process starting again would, of course, mean that we would miss that deadline, and this was pointed out to the hapless HR bods who had drawn the short straw to tell us. The timing of the announcement was, of course, execrable; a truly lovely Christmas present to us all.
That was late on the Wednesday morning. By the middle of the following Friday, we were told that there had been what the hacks call a 'climbdown', and the only people who would have to go through the whole process again were those who were adjudged 'likely' to be within RDT of Telford. But that would still push the next stage back to the end of January. The mood was, shall we say, 'volatile', and even those of our managers who had always been Good Company People were now having their eyes opened to just how devious and dishonest our employers were capable of being.
So, January saw the redeployment process go ahead. This was fairly pointless for most of us, because no-one was actually required to make themselves available for a move to another department, and the events of the previous month had so pissed off so many of us that hardly anyone volunteered to move in this way; the Depratment had effectively sawn off the branch it had been sitting on.
The redeployment forms went off at the end of January, and within a couple of weeks those of us who were now absolutely bloody determined to leave had our Letters of Offer. HR, having realised that the fence they needed to mend with us was of truly Trumpian proportions, sent a couple more bods (not the same ones; they were last seen being treated for PTSD at a secure location somewhere just outside Nottingham) to help us make our decisions and figure out the most advantageous settlement for each of us.
At the same time - and perhaps as another gesture of contrition - it was announced that the terms of the 2010 redundancy scheme were now to be guaranteed up to the end of March. So, as long as we had signed up to the voluntary redundancy and had had it accepted by HR before that date, we would go on the old terms.
Two hundred or so people bit HR's hands off.
And so, all there was left to do was to wait...
...but then COVID-19 struck. This was to have a number of effects, some serious, some inconvenient, some quite frankly hilarious.
But more of that next time...