Tag Archives: HMRC

HMRC loses an important voice on its board

By Tony Collins

Steve Lamey, who is leaving HM Revenue and Customs as Director General, Benefits and Credits, has worked tirelessly to improve the organisation’s systems and administration; and he has gained a reputation for listening to IT suppliers.

In 2007 he  won a British Software Satisfaction award for his work in promoting collaboration within the business software industry. He joined HMRC in October 2004 as CIO.

He is perceived to be leaving at a time when there are a number of vacancies at the top of HMRC. Accountancylive reported last month there was an “exodus”of senior officials from HMRC, and morale is said to be low.  But a man as influential as Lamey can do only so much.  Anyone who wants to effect major change at  HMRC must move an iceberg with a rowing boat. That said there have been some HMRC IT-related successes.

Was Lamey an unexploded force at HMRC?

But it’s conceivable that Lamey could have achieved more if he had carried on the way he started: by highlighting the need for change.

He unwittingly made a name for himself in 2005 after a speech he gave to a Government IT conference in which he revealed some of the corporate weaknesses of HMRC, an the organisation he had  joined not long before.

He  probably had not expected  his comments to be reported first in Computer Weekly and then on the front page of the Daily Telegraph.

At that time Lamey was HMRC’s new CIO. He told delegates of some of his discoveries, namely that:

– At least 31 million wrongly addressed letters were being sent out.

– Nearly half of self-assessment tax forms were being incorrectly processed and had to be done again.

–  he had been struck by the out-of-date computer systems. He told the conference: “If I were an information technology historian I would love it. We need to move on from there.”

– his  “biggest, biggest, biggest challenge” was correcting “poor quality data”.

Later a Daily Telegraph article, quoted me as saying “Mr Lamey’s frank assessment of the state of the tax department’s processes and systems is a rare and fresh approach for a senior government official.”

But was Lamey muzzled?

After that article it seems that Lamey was effectively muzzled, at least from making disclosures in public about HMRC’s flaws. Board papers at the time indicated that senior civil servants at HMRC would, in future, have to clear their public speeches in advance. Lamey did not make a similar speech in public again, not to my knowledge at least.

Richard Bacon MP, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, spoke at the time of the apparent attempts by HMRC to silence Lamey.

“It was refreshing to have a senior IT specialist, who is familiar with the business issues, and who is prepared to identify clearly what the scale of the problems is. Unless you’ve got that degree of frankness and candour, I don’t think you’re really going to solve the underlying problems. The alternative is to be in denial, to suggest that the problems don’t exist. It is plain that they do.”

The then Shadow Treasury minister Baroness Noakes, who was formerly a partner at KPMG, said she was concerned that it was already hard for parliament to discover how well HMRC was managing its business.

She said HMRC was “apparently silencing people from telling the truth”. She added “Speaking the truth [in the public sector] in the way you do in the private sector may well not be as acceptable.”

Would Lamey have been even more influential if he had continued – in public – to point to the weaknesses HMRC needed to tackle?

So defensive is HMRC that it considered a positive PR campaign to highlight its strengths after the loss of two CDs which contained the details of 25 million people.

Can an organisation that intuitively discounts and suppresses the negatives while trumpeting the positives ever properly reform itself? Probably not. If you cannot accept you have problems you cannot resolve them. We wonder how HMRC is getting on with its part of the Universal Credit project … its officials say all is well.

Attempts to constrain HMRC directors.

Front page Telegraph article with references to Steve Lamey’s speech

HMRC honcho poached.

Time for truth on Universal Credit

Hungry re-seller bags Steve Lamey.

Whistleblower punished?

Corporate IT Forum mobile enterprise conference will discuss: ‘Is it time to sunset the desktop?’

By David Bicknell

HM Revenue & Customs’ Director General for Change and CIO, Phil Pavitt, will be the keynote speaker at The Corporate IT Forum’s June conference, ‘Enterprise Everywhere.’

Sub-titled, ‘Is it time to sunset the desktop?’, the conference has been organised following requests from corporate IT professionals from enterprise organisations for an exploration into the future of the mobile enterprise.

The development of new technologies, an influx of smart devices, the advent of increasing cross-border legislation, new employment policies, and a business requirement for a flexible approach are demanding that organisations keep on top of all their options.

The event will discuss why now is the time to embrace the mobile age, providing employees and partners with access to key systems at any time, on any (and many) devices, to deliver significant business benefits. That opens up new opportunities and allows organisations to support a truly flexible workforce. But what are the realities behind making this possible?  

Other speakers will include John Harris, Chairman of the Corporate IT Forum and Chief Architect & VP of Global IT Strategy at GlaxoSmithKline;  Sheridan Hindle, Head of IT, Midcounties Co-operative Society; Neil Jarvis, Global Head of IT Security and IT Risk, DHL Supply Chain; and Steve Parker, Technical Architect at John Lewis Partnership.

The one-day conference is on Wednesday, 20th June in London. You can find out more details here.

It follow another recent  conference organised by the Forum around consumerisation.

HMRC picks an SME – and saves itself £50m

By David Bicknell

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) cut the cost of an Internet Explorer upgrade by up to £50m by awarding a contract to an SME, instead of a major systems integrator.

According to an article by Bill Goodwin on Computer Weekly, HMRC chose a small US company to upgrade from Internet Explorer 6 to IE9, after it found that large IT suppliers were unable to offer a cost-effective solution.

The Redmond-based company, Browsium, managed to complete the work for £1.28m, against quotes of £35m to £50m from much bigger companies.

Goodwin reports that HMRC CIO Phil Pavitt believes the contract will act as a proof of concept for other government departments facing similar IE6 upgrade problems.

Coalition responds to Administration committee’s “Recipe for rip-offs” criticism of Government IT

By David Bicknell 

The Coalition has responded to the Public Administration Committee’s January follow up to its report  “Government and IT – “A recipe for rip-offs: time for a new approach” which was published in July 2011. 

In a Memorandum to the Committee, the Government said it welcomed its interest in and support for government Information and Communication Technology (ICT). It insisted that “ICT is vital for the delivery of efficient, cost-effective public services which are responsive to the needs of citizens and businesses.

“The Government’s ICT Strategy set out how the Government ICT landscape would change over the current spending review period, and included 30 actions which form the foundation activities for achieving the Strategy’s core objectives of: reducing waste and project failure, and stimulating economic growth; creating a common ICT infrastructure; using ICT to enable and deliver change; and strengthening governance.”

It its responses to the Committee’s recommendations, the Government said the following:

Oligopoly of large suppliers and benchmarking

Committee Recommendation:

The Cabinet Office’s commitment to benchmarking through transparent data, as outlined in the Government’s response, will help to quantify the gap between high and low cost products and services, but without the independent external advice which we recommended to identify reliable cost comparisons, the overall outcome will not change, and the Government will not achieve its cost reduction agenda.

Government Response:

Government is committed to creating a fairer, more competitive and open marketplace from which it buys its ICT services and solutions. Government is in the process of breaking the contractual lock-in which places the majority of government ICT business with a small group of major systems integrators.

This process will remove exclusivity from the contracts, and rigorously record every contractual breach. It will also gather data centrally on the performance and pricing of all suppliers to provide a consolidated view of their competitiveness and performance.

In parallel, Government is consulting on new frameworks that will enable more agile procurement, and open the market to more Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Some existing frameworks are not in alignment with government policy, and are limited to existing large suppliers.

These frameworks will be deprecated in favour of new frameworks that support re-introducing greater competition into the provision of ICT goods and services. Doing so will remove the current advantage enjoyed by the existing large supplier base in order to re-establish a truly level playing field.

The recent work to restructure the current ASPIRE contract demonstrates how government is working to ensure better value for taxpayers, break up large contracts and create opportunities for new, smaller companies to enter the market.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Cabinet Office negotiated with the IT supplier, Capgemini, to deliver a significant restructure of the current ASPIRE contract and savings for HMRC. The new deal reached will lead to a diverse supply chain with transparent pricing (removal of the current exclusivity agreement), open choice for HMRC and significantly enhanced value for money. By 2017 the new deal will help deliver:

  • Cost savings: £200 million saved by paying less per unit of IT services provided and potential for further savings by open competition, volume reductions and direct relationships between HMRC and subcontractors;
  • More freedom: HMRC will now have more control to run open competitions for its IT needs, enabling more opportunities for innovative SME suppliers and greater control over the volume of work going through the contract;
  • Greater transparency: transparency in pricing is enhanced further to assist with value for money comparisons; and
  • Future Model – a future model that breaks lock-ins and gives HMRC the flexibility and control to drive its own savings and innovation.

Government is working to improve the quality of its ICT management information. One example of substantive progress is the recent G-Cloud framework which requires all suppliers to openly publish full details of their pricing (see http://www.govstore.net/).

In addition to this transparency, the pricing levels achieved for provision of these services are being used as benchmarks against which incumbent suppliers are being measured. Government expects all supplier costs to be reduced to match or better these benchmarks, producing substantial cost reductions.

A project is also beginning to gather information on contracts data for all current ICT suppliers and departmental benchmarking of ICT unit price data. The unit price benchmarking will build on a tool established within HMRC which, following a year of use, provided HMRC with a detailed breakdown of costs relating to IT and helped the department realise many benefits including £24m savings and a 30% reduction in the number of confidential desktops.

The National Audit Office has recommended that the tool be rolled out further across government. This project will provide the opportunity to benchmark across government, and also enable external independent reviews to measure comparability with private sector peers.

The Government’s intention is also to publish as much of this data for public scrutiny as possible. It is looking to embed this approach in its handling of all its large suppliers, including software developers.

The Government will also shortly be announcing a new memorandum of understanding with Oracle that will show how its new, commercially aware, intelligent customer approach will deliver financial and significant operational benefits.

Legacy systems

Committee Recommendation:

We are not convinced that the Government‘s approach to legacy systems properly addresses the underlying issues. At the very least, the Government should produce a long term risk-register identifying where and when investment will be needed to migrate and replace existing legacy systems.

Government Response:

The Government has recognised the challenge it faces in delivering services with both new and older systems. It is right to ensure that departments have a range of credible options regarding the choices they make about their legacy systems. Different circumstances will require different options.

Departments, which understand in detail both the business functions provided by their systems and the technical constraints that act upon them, are best placed to determine the appropriate option. All departments will be producing plans to show how their systems will conform over time to the Government’s ICT Strategy principles, objectives and standards. These will be subject to challenge and co-ordination to ensure that they result in a viable plan for Government as a whole.

All major commitments to expenditure, whether in “wrapping” legacy systems to enable their continued use or in implementing new systems to provide the necessary business functions, will be subject to appropriate spending controls and approvals.

Assessments at this stage will take account of relevant factors including value, cost, budgetary constraints and risk.

Capability within Government

Committee Recommendation:

We welcome and endorse the Government’s acknowledgement of the need to grow its capacity in commercial skills of procuring and managing contracts, not just technical IT skills, in order to become an ‘intelligent customer’. Specific training for the Senior Civil Service in technology policy will also be welcome, as will the growth of a network of ‘champions’ of agile development. However, it is not clear from the Government’s response to our report that its actions will be adequate to cope with the scale of behavioural and process change required across the whole of Government, nor that the agile ‘champions’ will have sufficient seniority, expertise or support.

Government Response:

The Government recognises that raising commissioning and procurement skills is vitally important to get better outcomes for the taxpayer and to stimulate growth through public procurements, including greater use of SMEs.

It has already developed new LEAN standard operating procedures for central government underpinned by training available for all civil servants. It is now working on similar improvements for contract and supplier management and commissioning.

The Cabinet Office has also been piloting a two-way commercial interchange programme with industry to bring private sector expertise into Government. Civil Service Learning (CSL) is currently developing a suite of training on commercial awareness which will be available to all Civil Servants via the CSL portal in spring/summer 2012.

In parallel, the Government is determined to return world-class Project Leadership capability to Whitehall to improve the delivery of the Government’s £400 billion portfolio of Major Projects, which includes ICT projects.

In order to achieve this, the Major Projects Authority has established the UK Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA), in partnership with Oxford Saïd Business School, to target the SROs and Project Directors leading the Government’s Portfolio. The key focus of the MPLA will be on leadership, business acumen and commercial expertise from both an academic and practical angle and will include lessons learned from previous major projects including ICT projects.

Part of the Academy programme will involve an assessment of capability and previous experience of Project Leaders, with a tailored development plan designed for each individual. This will ensure that there is a clear picture of the capability within the Civil Service and inform decisions of where to best deploy their expertise.

The Government fully recognises the point that Agile “champions” may not have sufficient seniority, expertise or support and are working on identifying and putting in place senior Agile Leads within departments to drive and embed the behavioural and process change required to make this a success.

NAO says HMRC is tackling tax evasion but needs to further exploit IT systems’ potential

By David Bicknell

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has applauded HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) work in tackling tax evasion to deliver £4.32 billion of additional tax yield between 2006 and 2011. HMRC also reduced staff numbers and introduced a range of improvements in its compliance work.

But, the NAO says, although the Department has introduced new IT capabilities to identify incidences of evasion more effectively, it is not yet exploiting the full potential of the new systems. It has also had to defer and reduce the scope of projects to keep within annual budgetary limits, leading to reductions in benefits.

According to the NAO’s report, the Compliance and Enforcement Programme cost £387 million to 2011-12 and was made up of over 40 projects intended to increase compliance yield – the measure of additional tax arising from compliance work – by £4.56 billion between 2006-2011.

Against that target, the Programme actually reported additional yield of £4.32 billion over the five years to March 2011, with HMRC forecasting that it will generate an additional £8.87 billion of yield between 2011-12 and 2014-15. However, the NAO points out, HMRC will not achieve all of the Programme’s forecast benefits because of changes to scope or slippage in delivering projects, as well as over-optimism in its forecasts.

HMRC reduced staff numbers by the planned amount of 3,374 full time equivalents by the end of 2008-09, two years ahead of schedule. It also generated an improvement in productivity -defined as the level of yield generated by each full time equivalent – of approximately 36 per cent, below its forecast of a 42 per cent improvement. HMRC did not routinely measure the impact of the Programme on customer experience.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said:

“This major programme has helped HMRC to increase tax yield substantially and has introduced ways of working which will strengthen HMRC’s compliance work in future.

“The Department could, though, achieve better value for money from its investment in compliance work by improved understanding of the impact of individual projects and ensuring that its staff have the capacity to exploit new systems to the full.”

On improving HMRC’s compliance work, the NAO report says the following:

 “The Programme has improved HMRC’s ability to undertake compliance work but it has yet to exploit the full potential of the new systems. In particular, the new ICT systems can substantially improve how HMRC assesses evasion risks to identify cases for investigation. HMRC is embedding new systems and approaches into working practices. We assessed the implementation of a sample of projects:

Project design. Overall, HMRC managed design phases well but, particularly on projects to implement new ICT systems, it did not sufficiently consider redesigning business processes or developing the staff capability needed to exploit the full potential of the new technologies.

Implementation. HMRC did not always communicate clearly the rationale for projects and, although it provided training and guidance, these were not always timely or requirements were underestimated.

Assessing the performance of new systems. HMRC has established management information on the use and performance of new systems and, over time, will seek to use this to better understand the impact on business performance.

HMRC – The compliance and enforcement programme