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Plan to break up Aspire contract ‘fatally flawed’

August 29, 2014


IT experts and MPs have expressed concern over HMRC’s plans to break down the IT contract which supports the collection of the UK’s taxes into a number of smaller packages.  The Aspire contract, which first began in 2004, is to be split up in response to new rules announced earlier this year by the Cabinet Office designed to encourage competition for Government contracts among smaller firms.  In a report published in July, the NAO estimates that HMRC spending on the contract (managed by technology company Capgemini) will amount to £10.4 billion, compared to the original Capgemini bid of £4.1bn. 

The increase in spend was due in part to HMRC commissioning much more work than was originally forecast and to the extension of the contract, as well as the merging of Inland Revenue with HM Customs and Excise in 2005-6.  Although the NAO did acknowledge that through their work with Aspire HMRC have been able to significantly increase tax collected (£506bn in 2013-14) and reduce their operating costs, they found that HMRC did not undertake market-testing to ensure that the contract continued to represent good value for money.  The contract was extended from its original ten years and is due to come to an end in 2017: the NAO cautioned that HMRC was running out of time to replace the Aspire contract and noted several risks associated with failing to complete this replacement, including “a fall in the quality of HMRC’s service to taxpayers, putting the amount of tax collected at risk”.

Speaking to The Times, Richard Bacon (an MP on the Public Accounts Committee) said that “There is nothing more critical than getting tax in, and you can’t start relying on hundreds of experimental start-ups taking this over.  The potential for another disaster is huge.” An industry source (also speaking to The Times) said the idea of dividing up the contract “is fatally flawed and it will fail.”

Although the change will not take place until 2017, the looming deadline adds pressure to HMRC to ensure that current systems are problem-free before any change takes place, including ironing out any issues with RTI systems and data.

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