Today Computer Weekly launches an important new campaign - Making the Tax System Work. It will turn the spotlight on the systems at HM Revenue & Customs which are vital to the economic health of the UK.
The tax system is riddled with inefficiency and suffers repeated failures when new systems are introduced. With 30 million individual taxpayers and thousands of corporate taxpayers, HMRC must work well for us all. But crisis after crisis shows that it does not.
Despite all the evidence, officials try to cloud the reality of what is going on and, when they do own up to problems, often unfairly blame IT for defects in project management or poor quality data.
The government has announced a wave of IT-based projects in the past few months, including ID cards, road pricing and an overhaul of defence systems, in addition to the IT-led modernisation of the NHS.
All these projects warrant detailed scrutiny, but underpinning each is the tax system, which collects the money used to fund public spending. If the government cannot run an efficient tax system, its other ambitions could be at risk.
After a decade of exposing failings in the tax system, Computer Weekly believes it is time to shine the spotlight on the systemic failures at the Revenue.
The need for honesty and clarity is amplified by the merger of the Inland Revenue & Customs. Done right, it can collect more tax, more efficiently, and we will all benefit. Done badly, it will lead to more bureaucracy, systems failures, scapegoating of IT staff and angrier taxpayers.
The prerequisite for success is an admission of the true state of affairs, development of meaningful targets for putting things right and metrics to gauge progress. Computer Weekly will:
- Highlight inefficiencies such as those revealed by Steve Lamey, chief information officer of HM Revenue & Customs last month.
- Establish the truth when the service breaks down and expose any gaps between reality and the official version.
- Draw attention to what needs to be done to make the department more responsive.
- Encourage transparency, including the publication of board minutes while they are still relevant and the publication of the department's progress in meeting key performance indicators.
- Help to establish HMRC as a place where IT professionals can do their jobs without being scapegoated when things go wrong.