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IT boss Mark Dearnley to leave HMRC

HMRC’s chief digital and information officer is returning to the private sector in the midst of the department’s Aspire contract exit

HM Revenue & Custom’s (HMRC) chief digital and information officer, Mark Dearnley, will return to the private sector in September, leaving the success of the department’s Aspire exit in question.

A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report published at the end of July said the success of HMRC’s transition away from its £800m-a-year Aspire contract relied heavily on senior management remaining in post.

“HMRC is now making progress in replacing the Aspire contract, but moving to a new model of IT provision remains a substantial undertaking which will require firm and consistent leadership,” the report said.

“As we have seen from elsewhere in government, one of the main factors that determines the success of complex programmes such as this is the quality and stability of their leadership.”

Dearnley, who is also the senior responsible officer for the Aspire contract exit, arrived at HMRC from Vodafone in October 2013 on a fixed term contract, which is coming to an end this September.

The PAC report said the committee had asked HMRC whether he would stay in his role, to which the department responded that it was “currently in negotiations” with Dearnley.

Responding to a query from Computer Weekly last week, an HMRC spokesperson refused to confirm rumours that Dearnley was leaving, and said that there were “no changes to things as laid down at the last PAC hearing”. However, a statement released today (1 August 2016) confirmed that Dearnley would, in fact, move back to the private sector.

Dearnley said in a statement that he had decided to take on new challenges, but that he was happy with the work he had accomplished while at the department.

“We have replaced our outdated internal IT, launched digital tax accounts for individuals and businesses, and have successfully concluded negotiations to dismantle the Aspire IT contract, taking more direct control of the design and delivery of our digital technology services at huge cost savings for HMRC,” he said.

“We have also built one of the strongest digital technology teams in the world, and I am confident that they will continue to deliver HMRC’s IT transformation at pace.”

PAC remains concerned

HMRC’s Aspire contract is one of the largest outsourcing deals ever signed by the UK government, and MPs have long been concerned with the department’s ability to successfully transition away from the contract.

“We remain concerned that HMRC may struggle to integrate different services from different providers. As we have seen from elsewhere in government, one of the main factors that determines the success of complex programmes such as this is the quality and stability of their leadership,” stated the latest PAC report.

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.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority also remains concerned about 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”.

As previously reported by Computer Weekly, a National Audit Office memorandum on the project showed 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.

One of many shake-ups in digital government

The change at HMRC is only one in a long line of shake-ups in government IT. Computer Weekly has also learned that Kevin Cunnington, currently director general for business transformation at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), will take over as the new head of the Government Digital Service (GDS).

Computer Weekly understands the Cabinet Office will make an official announcement shortly, and that a series of internal and external briefings will take place today to explain why GDS has its second new chief in a year.

Computer Weekly also revealed in July that HMRC had been specifically excluded from the GDS business plan that led to the award of a £450m budget for GDS in the November 2015 spending review.

According to sources, senior figures at both departments have been lobbying to break up GDS, and some now suggest that the appointment of a senior DWP executive is a compromise move to ease relations between departments and GDS.

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