HMRC chief praises ‘remarkable’ work on post-Brexit customs system

Deputy CEO MacDonald commends adaptation of both outgoing CHIEF and incoming CDS platforms

Credit: Ralf Roletschek/CC BY 3.0

HM Revenue and Customs deputy chief executive Angela MacDonald has praised the department’s digital teams for performing “remarkably” in their delivery of a new customs system to support the UK’s future outside the European Union.

When the Brexit referendum took place in 2016, the tax agency had already begun work to deliver the new Customs Declaration Service IT system. The incoming platform is replacing the Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight (CHIEF) system that has been in operation for almost three decades.

CDS was designed to handle 100 million declarations per year – well in excess of what was previously a typical annual tally of about 55 million

The decision to leave the European Union meant that, overnight, the requirements for the new system massively increased, with an extra 200 million customs declarations now expected each year.

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Work to deliver the project was subject to great scrutiny in the months following the Brexit vote, with the National Audit Office and various parliamentary committees frequently expressing concern about whether HMRC had sufficient time and resources to successfully implement CDS in time for the UK’s departure from the European Union.

CDS was successfully went live in 2018 and the migration process has progressed to the point that HMRC has now committed to switching off CHIEF in little over a year’s time.

In an exclusive interview with PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, MacDonald noted that the many predictions that the new customs system “would fall over” have proven wide of the mark. She credits this to the tremendous work of HMRC staff, who had to prepare both CDS and the outgoing CHIEF to be able to handle the demands of life outside the EU.

“[We] started as solving a particular problem in a particular set of circumstances; when we voted to leave the European Union, that threw the environment of customs completely into a different universe,” she said.  “The team did remarkably to pivot both of those – a programme which was already in flight, and the legacy system, CHIEF, which was never designed to have the scale that it had.”

Click here to read the full interview with MacDonald including lots of insights into HMRC’s efforts to support pandemic response, and a programme that has seen its workforce relocate from 170 local offices into 17 regional hubs.


Sam Trendall

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