HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has opened the doors to its new digital headquarters in Newcastle.
The Digital Delivery Centre will experiment with new digital technologies to create new ways of working and thinking.
HMRC digital staff and suppliers will work together to identify the needs of taxpayers, test new services with real users, and improve them once released to the public.
The ‘agile collaborative working environment’ was officially opened by David Gauke, financial secretary to the Treasury this week.
The centre is a major shift in how government employees work and how the HMRC creates and delivers its digital services.
In January, HMRC launched a recruitment drive to seek out more than 50 digital specialists to work at the new centre. But a blog written by digital director at the Cabinet Office, Mike Bracken said the headquarters now had 130 people all “raring to go”.
Bracken said the Government Digital Service (GDS) encourages departments to learn the skills to become digital in-house so they can work on agile projects.
The four big transformation exemplar projects the centre will be working on are: PAYE for employees, digital self-assessment, your tax account for businesses and register as a tax agent.
But the centre will also be working on other projects as well including tax credit renewals.
When the government confirmed plans to digitise public services just over a year ago, the Cabinet Office estimated it could save £1.7bn by 2015 by moving public transactions online. Of that £1.7bn, £1.2bn could be made by making everyday transactions digital, it said.
“The scale of the work is enormous, but so is the prize for getting it right. As Mark Dearnley told the Thinking Digital conference in Gateshead earlier this year, 70% of all government transactions come through HMRC. You can see why it’s so important that they invest in digital projects and people with the skills to do them,” said Bracken.
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Bracken also wanted to rubbish the idea that only London is digital.
“You don’t have to be in London to be part of the UK digital scene,” he said. “There are skilled digital people all over the country.”
“There’s been a thriving tech community in Newcastle for years, right on HMRC’s doorstep, but they were locked out of working for government by decades of big IT contracts. No one in government even knew they were there,” he added.
For example, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has a similar digital headquarters in Swansea where it is building several digital online services including full licence renewal, provisional licence registration and tax disc renewal, which is now in public testing.
Although the DVLA received some help from the Government Digital Service (GDS), its digital services are all built in-house by its 340-strong IT department in Swansea. And the unit is now being seen as another exemplar department throughout government for its efforts providing digital services.
“This was always part of the plan. We’ve always said that GDS should be a catalyst for wider digital change across the civil service,” said Bracken.