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Government pumps more than £100m into border IT systems

HMRC will get more than £100m for border IT systems as part of a £705m government funding package for infrastructure, jobs and technology post-Brexit

The government has announced £705m in funding for infrastructure, jobs and technology to help the UK post-Brexit transition period. 

The funding includes £100m to develop HM Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) border IT systems, as well as a further £15m to build “new data infrastructure to enhance border management and flow”, helping ensure the government’s goal of having the world’s most “effective border” by 2025.

The funding aims to “reduce the burden on traders” and “ensure that new controls can be fully implemented a “roll on, roll off environment” at the border, creating a seamless experience.

Chancellor Michael Gove said the funding will “help ensure our new borders will be ready when the UK takes back control on [1 January 2021]”.

“It will assist the smooth movement of goods, and it will help us to lay the foundations for the world’s most effective border by 2025, making our country more secure and our citizens safer,” Gove said.

“The new technology that we’re introducing will allow us to monitor with far greater precision exactly who, and what, is coming in and out of our country, enabling us to deal more effectively with organised crime and other threats.”

There are numerous UK border IT systems needed to be operational by the time the Brexit transition period is over, some of which are far from ready. As Computer Weekly reported in June 2020, one of those systems, the Goods Vehicle Movement Service (GVMS) intended to allow trucks to declare goods ahead of reaching the border, has not yet begun to be built.

The main customs IT system, the Customs Declaration Service (CDS), is also running behind schedule and was not ready by the time the UK left the EU in October 2019.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report, published in October 2019, said HMRC was behind schedule on the delivery timescales for CDS in February 2019, but the situation had become worse, according to the NAO report. 

The reason for the delay is that software developers at HMRC have had to focus on the old Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (Chief) rather than the new system.

Chief, which has been in place for 27 years, was originally only able to handle 60 million customs declarations per year. The system therefore had to be upgraded to ensure it would be able to cope as a contingency post-Brexit.

An HMRC spokesperson told Computer Weekly in May 2020 that the department has now extended the migration timelines for moving from Chief to CDS, and will run both systems in parallel for longer than originally planned.

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