IT chiefs face questions on HMRC disc crisis

IT chiefs at HM Revenue & Customs are set to come under the spotlight, as
the crisis over the missing child benefit computer discs continues to intensify.

As PricewaterhouseCoopers chairman Kieran Poynter gears up to give an account
of the loss of the bank data relating to 25 million people, senior Tories have
said that Steve Lamey, the CIO at the taxman until just last month, has ‘some
explaining to do’.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions are meanwhile being touted
as successors to chairman Paul Gray, who resigned last week, if current acting
chairman Dave Hartnett is not appointed to the role full-time.

The role of senior IT figures in the loss of the computer discs is set to
come under huge scrutiny over the next fortnight. Poynter’s interim report, to
be released in December, will reveal the chain of events that led to the loss of
the CD.

The account of the loss will be highly sensitive, with the Tories arguing
that processes and high-level policies on data transfer were not up to scratch.

‘There are systemic weaknesses here. People in IT must bear some of the
responsibility. Someone decided that it was not necessary for this information
to be encrypted,’ said Tory MP David Heathcoat-Amory MP, a former
‘I think (Lamey) has some explaining to do,’ he added.

Labour MP Harry Cohen told Accountancy Age, meanwhile, that he
planned to table a formal parliamentary question about what role Lamey had
played in the matter.

Lamey is the highest-paid HMRC official, earning £240,000 a year, according
to the most recent annual report.

The chancellor Alistair Darling initially suggested that the problems at the
department had been caused solely by a ‘junior official’ but emails released
since suggest more senior figures knew what was going on. Poynter will want to
establish how systemic the IT problems at HMRC were.

Whitehall sources, meanwhile, suggested officials from elsewhere in Whitehall
could be parachuted in to take hold of the department.

Although Dave Hartnett has taken over as acting chairman, he has spent his
entire career at the tax authority. Figures suggested an outsider might be
preferred to restore trust.

Phil Wynn Owen and Adam Sharples, both directors at the Department of Work
& Pensions, would be the leading challengers to Hartnett for the

There may also be a vacancy for a tax policy chief if Hartnett steps up to
the top role. Bernadette Kenny, currently on the board of HMRC, Naomi Ferguson,
director of local compliance, and Gabs Makhlouf, director of debt management
& banking, were all mentioned as possible successors to Hartnett in the role
of policy head.

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