Concerns remain over HMRC Aspire programme

A new IT programme for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), designed to deliver savings, still faces significant obstacles to being delivered as planned, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

In a memorandum on the ongoing programme, the NAO said that the deliverability of HMRC’s programme to replace the Aspire system with a new system called Columbus is still rated ‘amber/red’ by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, despite an appeal by the Columbus board for it to be changed to ‘amber’.

HMRC is seeking to save £200m a year by the project.

It said that the Infrastructure and Projects Authority is still concerned about the willingness and ability of suppliers to make the necessary value for money changes, and the ability of HMRC to manage the process.

It also said the programme is facing delays in determining the final model for HMRC obtaining its IT services after 2020, and there are concerns about the ability of the Columbus board to scrutinise the programme team.

The auditors also warned that even if HMRC was able to deliver the Aspire programme safely, this risked compromising the safe running of ‘business as usual services’.

HMRC itself admitted that it had 21 open risks for the programme, including whether benefits will be realised, the ability of HMRC staff to understand the change, the ability of parts of HMRC to work together, and the capacity of HMRC estate.

HMRC has also been criticised for its failure to prosecute tax evaders and for staff cuts which led to significant delays in its appeals process.

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