Legacy IT kit is behind 80% of UK taxman's pandemic costs, says spending watchdog

HMRC spent £53.2m maintaining creaky tech estate – report


An ageing IT estate is responsible for the bulk of the UK tax collector's costs in adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from Parliamentary spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee.

In a review of the tax authority's performance for 2019-2020, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found HMRC spent too much of its IT budget on patching up legacy systems rather than modernising them.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of an effective tax administration system. There is a strong case for investment in a modern IT system. Of the additional costs incurred by HMRC as a consequence of the pandemic, the largest element, as of 11 September 2020, was the cost of IT," the report said.

That came to £53.2m, or 80 per cent of the total.

"HMRC told us that it spends too much of its IT budget on maintaining its legacy estate and not enough on investment for the future and modernisation," the report continued.

Abandoned house

UK taxman waves through £168.8m Fujitsu contract because no one else can hold up 30-year-old infrastructure

READ MORE

The department accepted it needs to redress the balance between spending too much on legacy systems and not enough on investing for the future. In the November 2020 spending review, it got £268m from the Treasury to fix outdated IT and ensure its core systems are secure and support better administration.

"It remains to be seen whether this is sufficient to urgently address the long-standing issues the Department has identified," the PAC said.

The report highlighted areas of particular concern. For example, in systems supporting self-employed residents' tax data, technology infrastructures had not kept pace with developments since they were put in place in the mid-1990s.

'One of the most digitally advanced tax administrations'

The culprit for the unreasonably vast legacy estate, according to the spending watchdog, is previous cost-cutting. "HMRC has recognised that, due to the need in the past to forgo operational maintenance and upgrades to its systems to secure cost savings, its IT systems now constitute a significant risk to the department," the report said.

HMRC told the PAC it would seek funding opportunities, such as Spending Reviews, to modernise its systems.

In 2015, HMRC put plans in place to "become one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world."

A withering line from the report said: "HMRC considers that, although it is not the most digitally advanced tax administration in the world, it has made significant digital advances since 2015."

Speaking to the committee hearing last November, the tax agency's boss, Jim Harra, said he had commissioned a review of the technical debt and plans for tackling it since he became HMRC chief executive in October 2019.

"As a Department, we spend an excessive proportion of our IT spend on live running of the legacy estate and an insufficient proportion on investment for the future and on modernisation. I want to see that change," he said.

And yet that other mega issue smacking the HMRC right in the face, the country-splitting decision to leave the EU, is ensuring the tax authority clings to its legacy systems.

In October, it waved through a £168.8m Fujitsu contract because no other vendor could hold up 30-year-old infrastructure supporting, among other things, the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF), which was supposed to retire in January 2019, but was needed to handle EU trade after Brexit.

In November, Harra admitted there was no end in sight for the CHIEF system.

In its report, the PAC said HMRC should write to it by the end of March 2021 explaining how it would "refocus IT investment on modernisation for the future."

With that date following shortly after the March budget, in which UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to make those classic "tough choices" for public finances decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be a fool who bets that HMRC IT modernisation is anywhere near the front of the queue. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • These six proposed bipartisan antitrust laws put Big Tech in the cross-hairs – and a House committee just OK'd them

    Well, it's a start

    The US House Judiciary Committee this week approved half a dozen major bipartisan antitrust bills aimed at clamping down on the growing power of Big Tech and its monopolization of some markets.

    The panel, led by Jerry Nadler (D-NY), debated for nearly 30 hours on Wednesday and Thursday to advance the wide-sweeping six-bill package. The proposed laws includes all sorts of measures to prevent companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and others from dominating their sectors of the technology industry.

    There was likely plenty of lobbying and other wrangling going on in back and foreground over the exact wording of the package. For instance, there was a concern by some lawmakers that Microsoft would end up avoiding certain provisions in the proposed acts that would otherwise hit Google and Apple. There was some debate over that, and tweaks were made – such as removing "mobile" from "mobile operating system" in the fine-print – to ensure Redmond couldn't wriggle out.

    Continue reading
  • You won't want that Linux bling if it comes from Pling: Marketplace platform has critical vulnerabilities

    No one wants to be pwned by a drive-by RCE

    A Berlin startup has disclosed a remote-code-execution (RCE) vulnerability and a wormable cross-site-scripting (XSS) flaw in Pling, which is used by various Linux desktop theme marketplaces.

    Positive Security, which found the holes and is not to be confused with Russia’s Positive Technologies, said the bugs are still present in the Pling code and its maintainers have not responded to vulnerability reports.

    Pling presents itself as a marketplace for creative folk to upload Linux desktop themes and graphics, among other things, in the hope of making a few quid from supporters. It comes in two parts: code needed to run your own bling bazaar, and an Electron-based app users can install to manage their themes from a Pling souk. The web code has the XSS in it, and the client has the XSS and an RCE. Pling powers a bunch of sites, from pling.com and store.kde.org to gnome-look.org and xfce-look.org.

    Continue reading
  • Would-be password-killer FIDO Alliance aims to boost uptake with new UX guidelines

    Throws a bone to complex enterprise deployment, too

    The FIDO Alliance, which operates with no smaller mission than to "reduce the world's over-reliance on passwords", has announced the release of new user experience (UX) guidelines aimed at bringing the more technophobic on board.

    Launched back in 2013 as the Fast Identity Online Alliance, the FIDO Alliance aims to do away with passwords altogether through the introduction of standards-compliant "authenticators" including USB security dongles, fingerprint readers, Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) and more.

    While the organisation's standards, which were updated with the launch of FIDO2 in 2018, have enjoyed adoption in the majority of web browsers and with a range of companies, they're still seen as unusual and even inconvenient compared to the good ol' username and password combo – which is where the new UX guidelines come in.

    Continue reading
  • UK's Vodafone network runs trials on standalone 5G in London, Manchester and Cardiff

    These are networks that are not dragged down by LTE core

    Vodafone has launched 5G SA (Standalone) trials in London, Manchester, and Cardiff in its largest test of the technology yet.

    The commercial launch has allowed the carrier to experiment with new ways to commercialise its network, including network slicing – where a portion of network is dedicated to a specific customer for their exclusive use. It will also allow customers to test 5G SA devices on a live, public network.

    Vodafone selected Ericsson's dual-mode 5G core network as the dedicated provider for this trial. It follows trials at Coventry University in 2020, and a separate trial in Spain.

    Continue reading
  • What you need to know about Microsoft Windows 11: It will run Android apps

    The operating system they said shouldn't exist

    Microsoft on Thursday announced Windows 11, or tried to as an uncooperative video stream left many viewers of the virtual event flummoxed by intermittent transmission gaps in the opening minutes.

    The technical issues proved bad enough that Matt Velloso, Technical Advisor to the CEO at Microsoft, suggested trying the YouTube video stream as an alternative to the Microsoft-hosted one.

    But with some of the features already known as a result of a leaked build last week, the impact of the intermittent video dropouts was less than it might have been.

    Continue reading
  • Russia spoofed AIS data to fake British warship's course days before Crimea guns showdown

    Great powers clash while the rest of us sigh and tut at data feed meddling

    Russia was back up to its age-old spoofing of GPS tracks earlier this week before a showdown between British destroyer HMS Defender and coastguard ships near occupied Crimea in the Black Sea.

    Yesterday Defender briefly sailed through Ukrainian waters, triggering the Russian Navy and coastguard into sending patrol boats and anti-shipping aircraft to buzz the British warship in a fruitless effort to divert her away from occupied Crimea's waters.

    Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and has occupied parts of the region, mostly in the Crimean peninsula, ever since. The UK and other NATO allies do not recognise Ukraine as enemy-held territory so Defender was sailing through an ally's waters – and doing so through a published traffic separation scheme (similar to the TSS in the English Channel), as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed this afternoon.*

    Continue reading
  • Lego bricks, upcycled iPhone lenses used in new low-cost, high-res microscope

    Full instructions given away for free, to 'nurture natural curiosity'

    A trio of boffins at the Georg August University Göttingen and Münster University have put together a low-cost yet high-resolution microscope for educational users – using smartphone parts and Lego bricks.

    "An understanding of science is crucial for decision-making and brings many benefits in everyday life, such as problem-solving and creativity," said Timo Betz, professor at the University of Göttingen and co-author of the paper detailing the project. “Yet we find that many people, even politicians, feel excluded or do not have the opportunities to engage in scientific or critical thinking.

    "We wanted to find a way to nurture natural curiosity, help people grasp fundamental principles and see the potential of science."

    Continue reading
  • Romance in 2021: Using creepware to keep tabs on your partner or ex. Aww

    With this app, I thee stalk

    Online stalking appears to be as much a part of modern relationships as lovingly sharing a single spoon and dessert in a dimly lit restaurant or arguing over who should put out the bins.

    That's just one of the conclusions from antivirus merchant Norton's latest look at online trends which found that nearly one in 10 people in the US admit to using stalkerware or creepware to keep tabs on a partner.

    What's more, the threat of cyber snooping works both ways, with those involved in relationships increasingly resigned to the fact that their significant other might be stalking them – either now or in the future.

    Continue reading
  • Report picks holes in the Linux kernel release signing process

    Security procedures need documenting, improving, and mandating - though they're better than they used to be

    A report looking into the security of the Linux kernel's release signing process has highlighted a range of areas for improvement, from failing to mandate the use of hardware security keys for authentication to use of static keys for SSH access.

    The Linux kernel is at the heart of a wealth of modern technology, from embedded gadgets and network equipment all the way up to supercomputers. Its broad deployment makes it a tempting target for ne'er-do-wells, as was made all-too-obvious in 2011 when attackers gained root access to key servers used in its development and distribution.

    In response to that breach, traced back to a Trojan installed on a developer's personal machine which gave the attackers complete control over the affected servers for the 17 days before it was detected, a new release signing process was introduced. The idea: to minimise the trust placed in any given part of the Linux development infrastructure.

    Continue reading
  • British minister claims technology makes maritime cannibalism obsolete

    Even in a shipboard COVID lockdown, chowing down on ailing cabin boys is apparently no longer a thing

    A British government minister has claimed that cannibalism on the high seas should now be a thing of the past, as modern navigation and safety technology have made it very unlikely sailors will find themselves in circumstances where they might want to eat each other.

    This hopeful statement came during a debate in the House of Lords on human rights at sea when Baron Mackenzie of Framwellgate stood to ask a question of Charlotte, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the Conservative government's Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport.

    The debate had begun with Baroness Vere answering questions about the government's policy regarding the many merchant sailors worldwide who found themselves stuck on vessels thousands of miles from home, sometimes without pay or current contracts, due to the effects of the COVID pandemic.

    Continue reading
  • In our digital future, IT is really all about experience

    Time to focus on people, not just SLAs

    Sponsored Experience is everything when it comes to delivering IT-enabled products and services. But it’s no longer about how many deadlines your team smashed, how often you’d exceeded service-level agreements (SLAs), or how many lines of code you’ve spat out.

    Rather it’s about how the services and products you deliver impact the rest of the organisation’s ability to do their jobs, increase productivity, deliver customer satisfaction and co-create value.

    “Experience” may be seen as subjective, even ephemeral, compared to the traditional IT metrics, deadlines and SLAs. But if you want proof of its importance, consider how ITIL® 4, the latest revision of the best practice framework for service management from AXELOS, focuses on improving user experience of digital services and how this enhances productivity right across the organisation.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021