The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) poor track record on IT puts the department at high risk in decoupling its systems from Europe, the chair of the government’s spending watchdog has warned today.
According to the National Audit Office, Defra is one of the departments most affected by the EU Exit. Almost half of Defra’s work streams (20), the programmes created to support Brexit, have an IT element. Many of these IT components are still being scoped, and could range from minor updates to entirely new systems, said the report.
“In a number of cases, work streams with an IT component are still in the ‘discovery’ phase, establishing the needs of users and the scope of the service needed. Until this stage is completed, the scope and timescale for some work streams cannot be finalised and are subject to change,” said the report.
The report confirmed Defra has so far hired just over half of the 1,200 Brexit policy wonks it intends to hire by next year, as previously reported by The Register.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said the NAO’s report shows that Defra has been hit with an immense amount of Brexit work.
“Defra’s track record of failure in implementing a new system of farm subsidy payments, which the Committee examined in 2016 and 2017, hardly fills me with confidence in its ability to replace EU programmes with home-grown successors.”
The department has a long history of failure over its delivery of of the Common Agricultural Policy system.
At the end of 2015, senior government officials were hauled in front of MPs to defend their deeply "dysfunctional" and "childish" behaviour, which contributed to the botched £215m Common Agricultural Policy IT system, and up to £180m in EU fines.
Defra received income of £3.3bn in 2016-17 from the EU, mostly to reimburse direct payments made to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy.
Defra’s programme is highly dependent on EU Exit policy in other parts of government, with extensive cross-government collaboration and co-ordination required, said the report.
"For example, on borders, Defra is collaborating with the Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs and a number of other departments. To help ensure that the necessary collaboration and co-ordination occurs, the Government has established the Border Planning Group, a senior officials cross-government group."
Earlier this month, the watchdog warned the UK border could be left exposed after Brexit as departments have failed to plan for new IT systems.
MPs have also warned of the "catastrophic" scenario of UK taxmen at HMRC failing to have a back-up system in place if its Customs Declaration Service (CDS) programme is not ready in time for Brexit. ®