After being contacted by Computer Weekly HM Revenue and Customs confirmed on its website that it has issued incorrect penalty notices. Thousands of employers are affected. I then asked its press office: “How did it happen? Will HMRC be publishing a full report on how it happened and the lessons learned to assure employers it won’t happen again?
HMRC replied with commendable speed.
But this is all it said: “We know what caused the problem and are writing to the employers concerned to apologise. We don’t publish reports on incidents like this.”
I then put it to HMRC that the Identity and Passport Service had made a point of publishing a report on the lessons learned from its major IT projects, and its Executive Director of Service Delivery, Bernard Herdan, has challenged other departments to do the same.
“Why does HMRC not consider it should do the same?” I asked its press office. “Employers and taxpayers will want to be assured that HMRC is learning from its mistakes – and this is the third year running that HMRC has issued thousands of incorrect penalty notices. We [Computer Weekly] acknowledge that HMRC has not published reports on lessons learned from incidents – but is HMRC a slave to custom and tradition?”
This was the reply I received this morning [10 October 2007]:
“Thanks for that information. But our response is still the same as before.”
On 18 October 2004, Lord Falconer, then Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor, gave a speech on the benefits of openness in government.
“The more there is a culture of openness, the better decision-making will be. If decisions have to be publicly explained, they will be better taken. Real informed accountability improves standards.”
But Lord Falconer made his speech in Newcastle and HMRC is based at Parliament Street, near Big Ben. That’s a long way for news to travel.