HM Customs & Excise

Shortlisted team for DfEE Award for Age Diversity: Personnel Today Awards 2000

HM Customs & Excise is a UK-wide department with about 23,000 employees. It collects and manages VAT and customs duties amounting to 41 per cent of central government taxation. It is also heavily involved in fighting drug trafficking and in enforcing import and export regulations.

In its dealings with businesses and the public the department acknowledges a need to promote integrity and courtesy, and sees the encouragement of diversity as a means to promote these values.

Following a government White Paper urging the acceleration of diversity it has set out a plan of action. This aims to increase the representation of minority groups at all levels in the organisation, and ensure that no employee suffers from discrimination, for instance on the grounds of age.

Measurable diversity targets have been established, with objectives for employees at all levels. The plan also has a strong external focus to ensure that the department provides a professional service to the trading and travelling public.

Leading the process is HR director Richard Allen, who works closely with the board to promote diversity and ensure that age and similar issues are kept high on the management agenda. As a first step Allen has commissioned research into the department’s selection procedures to identify any possible bias. A staff survey will reveal whether employees in different age bands feel they have fair opportunities for development and training. Initial results suggest that some issues need to be addressed at the more junior and senior levels of the workforce.

At present employees face mandatory retirement ceilings between 60 and 65 years old. In future Allen hopes that these can be freed up to enable individuals to continue working longer.

However, it is necessary first to establish what the implications of this for the department as a whole will be, he points out.

At the other end of the spectrum a developmental scheme has been set up which it is hoped will help promote younger staff to management positions more quickly.

Allen also wants them to be able to contribute to policy-making, and has brought together a group of 45 employees aged under 30 from all parts of the department to meet and come up with ideas.

"Hopefully they will build an ability to work together and come to us with their views," Allen says. "By and large it’s ministers that set the policy, but in areas such as personnel, finance and planning they can contribute ideas as to how we can manage things better to make ourselves more effective."


Company fact file

Team HM Customs & Excise

Team leader Richard Allen, HR director

Number in HR team 300

Number of employees responsible for 23,500

Main achievements Survey of staff perceptions, including issues of ageism; review of retirement age in progress; involvement of younger employees in policy making

Priorities for next 12 months To work towards the creation of a culture that values diversity, taking action to ensure that employees at all levels are given every opportunity to contribute fully

Judge’s comments "HM Customs & Excise has recently made impressive strides as an age diversity employer. Its equality and diversity team has effectively championed the cause of age diversity across the organisation, with substantive achievements in terms of their diversity action and communication strategies"

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