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BEIS yet to begin procuring IT systems needed for Brexit, PAC finds

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier says the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy “appears to be operating in a parallel universe where urgency is an abstract concept”, as it needs upwards of 12 new digital systems and so far has none

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has not yet begun procuring any of the numerous digital systems it needs for Brexit, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found.

A PAC report on the department’s progress in preparing for Brexit said BEIS must plan for both a negotiated and a no-deal scenario, prepare the necessary secondary legislation, and establish new processes and systems – including building new IT systems – in time for the UK’s exit from the EU in March 2019.

It has previously called on the department to reprioritise tasks to ensure its Brexit work gets done, as it’s responsible for 68 of the 300 or so workstreams government departments need to complete.

BEIS needs to build or procure “upwards of 12 new digital systems” for Brexit. The committee said that when it took evidence in January 2018, “extraordinarily, the department had not yet started to procure any of these systems despite them being required by March 2019 in the event of a no-deal scenario”.

“They may still be required if negotiations should break down. The department said it hoped to begin procurement in the next few months and was confident it could acquire and test the systems by March 2019,” the PAC report said.

“We doubt the realism of the department’s plans to deliver the numerous IT systems required to support the implementation of its Brexit workstreams, especially when it has yet to start procurement.”

So far, the department has just begun to set out the system requirements, and plans to start procurement “over the next two or three months”.

However, BEIS told the committee it was “very confident” it could buy and test the systems by March 2019, and that most of the systems needed were “not cutting edge”.

“Given the government’s generally poor track record in delivering IT projects, we are extremely sceptical that the department will be able to deliver these systems in time,” the PAC said.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said the committee had “grave concerns” about the department’s “apparent complacency”.

“[BEIS] appears to be operating in a parallel universe where urgency is an abstract concept with no bearing on the Brexit process,” she said.

“The department is responsible for around a fifth of the workstreams the government must complete as the UK leaves the EU. It is an extremely important, challenging and time-sensitive workload.

“Yet the department told us it had not reprioritised its overall programme of work, had not begun procurement for around a dozen essential digital systems and could not provide vital information about its workforce.”

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The committee’s report added that BEIS had recruited 90% of the staff it needed for Brexit, but added: “We are not convinced it has yet got the right mix of skills and experience in place to implement its Brexit work effectively. It cannot even explain the skills in its existing workforce.”

BEIS said it was aware that it would need people with digital skills, but added that it had had no problems finding and recruiting the right staff, despite the skills shortage.

In February 2018, another PAC report on exiting the EU said the civil service needed to address the lack of skills urgently, pointing out that the current process had been “too slow”.

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