The tax man has been spending big on its digital workforce, with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) splashing out over £150m on more than 4,000 full-time tech staff in 2022. Data obtained under the Freedom of Information (FoI) act also shows that the government department has launched 15 new academies to train employees in cloud computing, data science and other disciplines to push forward its digital agenda.
The figures were released after an FoI request from the Parliament Street, which probed the department on the number of IT staff it had within its organisation and on its payroll over the past five financial years. It also quizzed HMRC on what type of training staff undertook as part of their roles.
HMRC’s response said that it had spent over £150m on 4,032 full-time equivalent numbers of permanent staff based in its IT department, the Chief Digital and Information Office (CDIO) in the financial year to March 31 this year. It stipulated that the majority of the staff members were IT professionals, but that the numbers included smaller numbers of other professions such as project delivery, operational delivery, HR and finance who support the CDIO’s work.
The figures do not include the 564 staff employed in HMRC’s in-house technology services company, Revenue and Customs Digital Technology Services (RCDTS). However, with this company shutting down later this year, its staff will transfer to the CDIO team.
Over the five years, HMRC has increased its spending on IT staff by 91% according to the figures. In the financial year ending March 31, 2019, it spent £79,916,209 on 2,203 IT staff members. Number grew steadily between then and March 2022, but then grew sharply from 3,101 to 4,032 in the final year.
HMRC has developed 15 academies for CDIO professional learning
As well as upping its spending on digital transformation professionals, HMRC facilitated around 2,000 learning requests for courses and training by staff from the CDIO.
HMRC also said that it has developed 15 academies for the digital operations team that deliver professional learning for specific technical roles such as data scientists or for functions and technologies like cloud computing. “The academies use a blended approach of externally and internally developed learning content. They are led by internal subject matter experts who ensure we are aligned to industry standards and using the best learning opportunities for our people," HMRC's response said.
Joanna Reynolds, managing director of marketing SaaS agency, Bordeaux & Burgundy, said that HMRC's new academy programme showed that the department was prioritising investment in technology and digital skills: "Enhancing digital skills is crucial for creating a now and future-ready workforce.
"HMRC's new academy programme is an excellent example of sharing knowledge and expertise throughout their organisation," she continued. "By prioritising investment in tech skills, we can position the UK as a centre for private equity and venture capital investment and a hub for the development of tomorrow's most innovative technology companies."
An HMRC spokesperson said: “We run a vast, 24/7 operation, including one of the UK’s largest and most complex IT estates. Our IT and security function (CDIO) has grown to meet demand and is also recruiting more of the critical skills we need to keep pace with changing technology and the opportunities these bring.”
The department says it is attempting to buy IT services from a more diverse range of partners, and has broken its five largest IT contracts down into 30 smaller, more flexible, contracts to give it better access to range of technologies.
However, HMRC's digital transformation has not been plain sailing. Last year it was criticised in a report from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority over delays in moving information out of ageing data centres and into new facilities. HMRC said a variety of factors, including Brexit, had contributed to a number of 'pauses' in the project.