Rob hyrons - Fotolia

Infrastructure and Projects Authority still concerned over HMRC Aspire exit

One-fifth of the overall Aspire contract will continue to run until 2020, and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority remains concerned about HMRC's ability to manage the exit process

The UK government's Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) is still concerned with HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) project to exit its £800m-a-year Aspire outsourcing contract.

In March 2016, HMRC announced it had agreed a phased exit plan with Capgemini and Fujitsu, seeing some services running until 2020 – three years longer than the planned 2017 exit, as previously reported.

A National Audit Office memorandum on the project shows that a range of services from Capgemini – including legacy business applications in development and maintenance, test and release services, SAP services and data analytics services – will run until 2020. Infrastructure services from Fujitsu will also continue to run until 2020.

According to the memorandum, HMRC estimates the total costs of replacing Aspire will be up to £700m

In a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) meeting yesterday, HMRC chief digital and information officer Mark Dearnley said the extended contracts equal “roughly 20% of the overall scale of the scope that was in the Aspire deal”.

The 10-year Aspire outsourcing deal is one of the biggest IT contracts ever signed by the UK government, and has been heavily criticised for its high costs. By the end of the contract, its prime contractor Capgemini will have cashed in £10.4bn of taxpayers’ money on the deal.

The exit of the contract, which the department has said it expects to save more than £200m a year by doing, has also been under scrutiny. Part of the criticism of the exit was that the original 2017 deadline was unachievable.

While the IPA recognised in December 2015 that the programme – dubbed Columbus – has made “considerable progress”, it still has some concerns.

“In April 2016, the Columbus programme board has recommended that the programme’s rating should be changed to ‘amber’,” the memorandum said.

Read more about HMRC's Aspire exit

However, the project continues to be rated ‘amber/red’, which is defined as “successful delivery of the project/programme is in doubt with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas. Urgent action is needed to ensure these are addressed, and whether resolution is feasible”.

The IPA still remains concerned with four areas of the programme, including “the willingness and ability of Aspire suppliers to make the required improvements in delivery performance and value for money, and the capability of HMRC to manage this process”. This is as well as “the extended period before the programme can determine the final model for HMRC obtaining its IT services from 2020 and thus the end-state of the programme”.

Dearnley told PAC that HMRC aims to decide on the “next iteration of its model for future IT provision” by 2018, but said that it already has “really good insight into HMRC’s needs”.

“What we’re doing is looking at whether we got the right type of bricks and the right organisation of those bricks as we go through each phase of our transformation,” he said.

“We’re now executing the organisation of those bricks we’ve decided will get us from the Aspire contract through the next few years and into the transformation we’re running. Once we’ve done that we will need to re-look at those bricks, see which ones have worked best and what organisation we need going forward.”

Dearnley added that it’s “inevitable in every large black-box IT ousourcing deal that there are details that when you get right into it, you don’t know what’s going on”.

The IPA is also concerned with the programme board’s ability to scrutinise and challenge its programme team, as well as HMRC’s “capacity and capability to carry out the replacement of the Aspire programme alongside other change programmes”.

As part of the replacement programme, HMRC is aiming to use smaller, more agile suppliers. Dearnley told PAC that the department went live with an application programming interface (API) platform, which is in public beta, and lets software companies integrate with HMRC “more quickly and easily”.

Read more on IT for government and public sector