Only 23% of HMRC staff impressed with IT developments of past year
Staff at HM Revenue and Customs have questioned whether tens of millions of pounds spent on IT work since 2004 has improved customer service.
As part of the first survey of the combined department - formerly Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise - staff also raised doubts about the effectiveness of senior management, its ability to manage change, and said that working in their area of the department had got worse in the past year.
HMRC can take heart from the fact that the survey, the results of which were published in an internal Revenue newspaper, OneHMRC, showed that more people were satisfied with their jobs than dissatisfied. A large majority praised the department for encouraging teamworking and most think HMRC is committed to the idea of good customer service, but their views on technology developments were less positive.
Over three weeks, more than 7,000 people completed an online form. It was one of the biggest surveys undertaken by any department of its staff and produced a response rate of 70%. It was carried out in May and June 2005, almost a year after Capgemini took over the IT work of the former Inland Revenue in a contract worth more than £3bn. The Revenue's systems were previously run by US-based EDS.
Fujitsu runs most of the IT work at Customs and Excise under a contract worth about £930m.
Both the Revenue and Customs have extensive programmes of IT work. But when staff who took part in the survey were asked whether they agreed with the statement that "IT developments in the last 12 months have improved the service I can provide to customers" only 23% agreed - 42% disagreed. Of the 42%, 13% strongly disagreed. The rest expressed no view either way.
The Revenue earmarked £200m for electronic systems to improve customer service between April 2001 and March 2004. These systems and enhancements were supposed to have made it easier for companies and individuals to submit tax returns online and make payments for some services by debit and credit cards.
In 2003, Customs and Excise allocated £327m to be spent between 2003 and 2010 on IT to improve customer service, with £48.5m being spent in one year alone, 2003/2004, according to public spending watchdog the National Audit Office.
Both departments are under government-imposed obligations to offer all their services online by the end of this year.
The results of the survey reinforce the need for Computer Weekly's campaign to improve the tax systems and vindicate the concerns expressed by HMRC's chief information officer Steve Lamey, who spoke in May of the department's poor-quality data, fragmented business processes and outdated IT equipment in some areas.
He made it clear that one of his biggest challenges would be to change a culture that does not reward people for effecting major change. He wants the department to agree a set of "killer KPIs" - key performance indicators.
During the period covered by the survey, the Revenue had IT-related disasters involving tax credits, the problematic and delayed introduction of the Eric system to fully validate online PAYE returns, and difficulties handling self-assessment forms.
More than 50% of Revenue staff believe that change is not managed well and only 11% think that working in the department has got better over the past 12 months. Just 21% said senior management provides effective leadership, and the same low number believe that actions will be taken on problems identified in the survey.
David Varney, chairman of HMRC, said some of the survey's results were encouraging but he added, "A lot of people do not think they get the chance to contribute their views about what is going onÉ To make our customer services better and our operations more efficient we depend more than ever on the practical ideas from people at the sharp end."
Revenue upbeat about survey findings
HM Revenue and Customs was positive about the finding in the survey of staff that only 23% of employees think IT developments in the past 12 months have improved the service they give to customers.
A spokesman for HMRC said, "The 23% of our staff who think that service has improved as a result of IT developments provides us with an excellent base upon which to build."
"We would naturally like the percentage of staff who think that IT developments have improved matters to increase with time and we believe that it will."