Chief executive tells MPs’ committee that transformation programmes could be delayed to prioritise Customs Declaration Service
HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) chief executive has indicated that the new customs IT system will be ready for full deployment by January 2019, in time for the UK’s departure from the EU three months later.
Jon Thompson (pictured) has said the changes can be made in time in a letter to Meg Hillier MP, chair of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, in response to its warning late last year that the department was badly placed to have the new system ready for the deadline.
But he acknowledged that this has come with a proposal to HM Treasury that some of HMRC’s other transformation programmes are put on hold or slowed down.
“Our assessment is that if these changes are agreed then the resultant portfolio is deliverable, with the appropriate level of risk,” the letter says. “Also, that we have the capacity and capability to deliver it, or can obtain those capabilities in an appropriate timescale.”
He also points to the programme having received a positive amber/green rating from the Infrastructure Projects Authority when it was reviewed last month.
The concerns derive from the fact that the existing Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system can deal with up to 100 million declarations at UK ports, but that from April of next year the number is expected to leap to about 255 million. The new Customs Declaration Service (CDS) is scheduled for initial launch in August, with a continued programme of testing and full deployment in January of next year.
It is planned that the two systems will run concurrently over a transition period. HMRC has extended the contract with Fujitsu Services to manage CHIEF until March 2020 with an option to extend until March 2021.
Thompson’s letter says there has been significant progress in the development of the CDS, with two major components – the Declaration Management System and Tariff – have shown they can achieve CHIEF volumes. They are currently being tested to ensure they can cope with the volume of declarations expected after EU exit.
HMRC is also due to begin end-to-end performance testing of the CDS this month, and the Treasury has made £260 million available to the department to cover costs related to Brexit.
The decision to replace CHIEF with the CDS was made before the EU referendum.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0