HMRC have responded to my FOI request submitted 7 October, about DEC.
I reproduce the full text of their response below.
As you can see most of my queries have not been answered:
"we believe that disclosure would prejudice HMRC's commercial interests"The "irony" being that they manage to not answer my queries late!
"Dear Mr Frost
Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA)
I am writing regarding your request for information dated 7 October 2016. I am sorry for the delay in replying. In your request you asked for the following information with regard to Digital Evidence Capability (DEC):-
1. What is Digital Evidence Capability in the context of Counter-Avoidance and can you verify its existence?
2. How much has it cost the taxpayer to date and when did development of the system begin?
3. Is it being actively used within Counter Avoidance for tracking avoidance cases and if so, how many cases are currently on the system?
4. Has the system generated any avoidance cases that have been pursued?
5. Is Mark Nellthorp responsible for managing the development of the system?
Development of the Digital Evidence Capability system (DEC) began in 2014. The objective of DEC is to provide a single IT system for litigation teams in Solicitors Office and the Counter-Avoidance Directorate to manage evidence relating to avoidance cases electronically. As the system is still in development, it is not in active use. DEC is not intended to "generate" avoidance cases. The Senior Responsible Officer for managing the development of DEC is not Mark Nellthorp.
HMRC holds the information requested on the costs of the system to date but it is being withheld. The exemption that applies is section 43(2) FOIA because we believe that disclosure would prejudice HMRC's commercial interests. This is because the requested information largely relates to work undertaken by Cap Gemini under HMRC’s Aspire contract and, combined with information possessed by IT contractors who have worked on the DEC system, might enable individuals to estimate day rates and profit margins.
Section 43 is qualified exemption so I must consider whether the balance of the public interest favours maintaining the exemption.
I accept there is a strong public interest in HMRC being accountable for its decisions and that it is as
Director: David Richardson
transparent as possible about the ways in which it makes those decisions. When a Government department enters into contracts with commercial entities, the public have a right to know that the public purse is being expended wisely and that departments are getting value for money. Disclosing the requested information would demonstrate HMRC’s wil ingness to be open about its contractual arrangements.
Whilst there is a strong public interest in HMRC being accountable for its decisions, it should be noted that the department is subject to regular scrutiny by bodies such as The National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Select Committee. Through this scrutiny, the effectiveness of HMRC’s strategic decisions can be chal enged to ensure HMRC is accountable.
Disclosure of such commercial y sensitive information could weaken our partners’ position in a competitive environment and could also harm the relationship between them and the Department. This would in itself undermine the commercial interests of both parties and potentially the efficacy of our contracts. Furthermore it could have an inhibiting effect on other third parties currently, or potentially, doing business with the Government and therefore on the Government’s ability to secure value for money which is against the public interest. Release of information which could damage companies commercially would discourage them from dealing with the public sector and would undermine the necessary mutual trust and respect between private and public sector partners.
So, on balance I consider the public interest favours maintaining the exemption.
I can assure you though that HMRC is focused on getting value for money in the development of the IT system. Most of the IT development work is now being undertaken in-house and we are ensuring that all IT contractors working on the project provide value for money.
To be helpful, and outside of the FOIA, you might like to be aware of ‘HMRC’s digital blog’ where you can find out news about our progress and information on specific digital projects - https://hmrcdigital.blog.gov.uk/about-us/. On the 12 Feb 2016, Kristian Miller HMRC's Head of IT Strategy, shared a copy of HMRC’s long term IT vision which included a reference to DEC. This can be found at: - https://hmrcdigital.blog.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2016/02/HMRC-IT- Strategy-2016.pdf
If you are not happy with this reply you may request a review by emailing [email address], or by post to HMRC FOI Team, Room 1C/23, 100 Parliament Street London SW1A 2BQ. You must request a review within 2 months of the date of this letter. It would help us carry out our review if you set out the aspects of the reply that concern you and why you are dissatisfied.
If you are not content with the outcome of an internal review, you can complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The ICO wil not usual y consider a case unless you have exhausted the internal review procedure provided by HMRC. You can make a complaint through the ICO’s website at: www.ico.org.uk, or by post to: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF.
Yours sincerely "
Tax does have to be taxing.
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