The drive for honesty, accountability and openness in government and business has been central to several successful Computer Weekly campaigns. It is also a vital force behind our new campaign for a more transparent, low-cost and responsive tax system.
Last month Steve Lamey, chief information officer at the combined Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise, told government IT executives of his department's successes. He also revealed the depth and breadth of inefficiencies within the tax system.
When it learned of his comments, the tax department reacted as it usually does when faced with bad news: it published statistics to show all is well. In the face of credible evidence of business inefficiencies and blunders, officialdom exudes complacence. The reality is that costs are far higher than necessary, unpaid tax is estimated to be between £30bn and £50bn a year, and failures to pay out correct sums have hit thousands of those who most rely on the system to work well. Stressed payroll managers in private companies have become exasperated trying to deal with a stressed and largely unaccountable government tax department.
We also know that IT is blamed unfairly for weaknesses in management, oversight and accountability, which are compounded by a lack of transparency. We do not blame any single press officer, any one senior executive, or any committee. What needs countering is a cultural fear of telling it like it is. In the private sector openness, honesty and accountability are the new buzzwords. They were central themes at the recent IT Director's Forum.
Executives such as Mike Branigan, group IT director of logistics company TDG, and Lesley Hume, group IT director of engineering consultancy Atkins, revealed how technologists take part in bids for new business. Potential clients can see for themselves how IT performs. They see its costs and can compare performance with other companies.
HM Revenue & Customs has none of these competitive pressures. It does not go out of business if it fails to collect from customers, overpays them, or antagonises them. This makes it all the more important that it responds to pressure for reform from MPs, stakeholders including many staff, and its corporate customers.
Lamey will need the stomach for a fight if he is to bring about a more open, efficient, effective tax system, sweeping away the centuries-old cobwebs of resistance to change, introspection and defensiveness. And with its Making the Tax System Work campaign, Computer Weekly is committed to helping enable change to produce a tax system that works for each and every individual and organisation.
This was first published in June 2005