HMRC will deliver new customs system ‘whether we get the funding or not’, pledges chief exec

Written by Tamsin Rutter on 22 November 2017 in News

Around 30 of the 85 IT systems that operate at the UK border need to be updated as a result of Brexit

UK Border controls - Image credit: PA

HM Revenue and Customs that he would push ahead with developing customs arrangements that will cope in post-Brexit Britain, regardless of funding from the Treasury, chief executive Jon Thompson told MPs.

His comments come after the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster sounded the alarm because HMRC does not yet have the cash to upgrade its under-construction Customs Declarations Service (CDS) in advance of a probable five-fold increase in workload, and to develop a contingency system should CDS fail to be ready in time for March 2019.

Thompson told the committee on Monday: “Just to be clear, it is going to happen and I am going to spend the money, whether I get the funding or not.”

The PAC also heard that around 30 of the 85 IT systems that departments currently operate at the UK border – some of which rely on 1990s technology – will need to be replaced or modified as a result of Brexit.

The UK Government is designing five new IT systems from scratch and replacing three in their entirety, including the CDS currently being developed by HMRC, which runs 34 of the 85 systems.

CDS will replace HMRC’s system Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF), and aims to be fully operational by January 2019.

In case of delays, the tax agency wants to upgrade CHIEF alongside developing CDS, to ensure it can handle the 255 million declarations expected after Britain leaves the EU This compares with the total of 55 million that were made by traders in 2015.

It would need £7.3m to upgrade CHIEF, and the PAC insisted in a report that HMRC should “bang on the doors of the Treasury” until it gets that money.  

Karen Wheeler, director general of HMRC and co-chair of the cross-government Border Planning Group, said that not all 30 new systems needed to be in place before Britain leaves the EU in 2019, but they would all be able to “leverage” off those that do.

Wheeler, speaking alongside Thompson at a PAC hearing on Monday, said these changes were building on a pre-existing programme of work – “one government at the border” – which aimed to join up systems, processes and IT at the UK’s 270 ports, airports and other crossing points.

The Border Planning Group has six primary tasks, which Thompson listed as: developing a shared understanding of goals among the 21 departments and agencies that operate systems at the border; making sure those goals are aligned; sharing plans and policy issues among them; giving assurance to ministers; testing designs for new systems; and working with the Treasury on funding bids.

He added that data exchange between organisations, underpinning IT structures and overall resource levels were among the problems the group was aware needed attention.

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