HM Revenue and Customs pays a strange compliment to its ASPIRE tax credits suppliers

It’s said that praise shouldn’t consist of a stream of adjectives. Praise lies in the facts and the way of telling them.

HM Revenue and Customs struggles sometimes with the way it presents facts. Which could explain why some of its urbane comments about its ASPIRE IT suppliers have missed the mark.

Capgemini and its main subcontractor Fujitsu are running the department’s main systems under a 10-year £8bn outsourcing contract, called ASPIRE [Acquiring Strategic Partners for the Inland Revenue]. The contract began in 2004.

In its annual report, which was published this month [July 2007], HM Revenue and Customs gives the sort of praise to ASPIRE’s IT suppliers that may be intended to flatter the praise-giver.

The annual report mentions the work carried out by ASPIRE companies on the tax credits systems which were built by EDS and acquired by Capgemini in 2004.

The annual report says of software errors on tax credits:

“ASPIRE, our strategic IT partner, has a Live Service Improvement Plan to improve the performance of the IT live service and manage down the number of software errors in the system. The level of software errors in the tax credits system reflects its complexity and relative immaturity, and in particular the level of development of the system. In general, errors when they occur, now only affect a minority of customers.”

There are about six million families that receive tax credits. If software errors affect only a minority of customers, this could be just a few families. Or nearly three million.

It’s a little like the directors of an airline praising their aircraft manufacturer for supplying planes with so few faults that only a minority ever crash.


HM Revenue & Customs 2006–07 Accounts

EDS’s settlement with HM Revenue and Customs over tax credits

What’s £3.5bn between friends? – the increasing costs of HMRC’s ASPIRE contract

Concern over HMRC attempts to constrain directors’ public speech

Whitehall must embrace honesty and openness to succeed in IT