Saturday, 23 November 2013

GDS & HMRC – what could possibly go wrong?

Tax Inspector Harry Callahan tried to warn them on 27 January 2013. Keep your hands off HMRC's manuals, he told GDS, if you know what's good for you.

This is all to do with GDS's single government domain project.

And the Government Digital Service – to give them their full name – seemed to heed Harry's advice.

Admittedly on 1 March 2013 ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of HMRC GDS, announced that GDS had "mapped over HMRC".

In terms of the single government domain project that should mean that GDS had transferred the content of http://www.hmrc.gov.uk to https://www.gov.uk and discontinued http://www.hmrc.gov.uk in the same way that http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk, for example, has been disappeared.

But luckily that turned out on inspection to be simply and flatly false. http://www.hmrc.gov.uk was still there and what's more it still is today.

Discretion had proved the better part of valour?

Not. As. Such.

An example taken from HMRC's manuals:

Capital allowances on plant and machinery

If you're in business you can claim tax allowances, also known as capital allowances, on certain purchases or investments that you make on business assets. You cannot directly deduct your expenditure on those assets when calculating your profits or losses, instead you can deduct a capital allowance. This applies whether you're self-employed and pay Income Tax or are a company or organisation that's liable for Corporation Tax.
Many common business assets such as office equipment, furniture and machines or tools, may be considered to be plant and machinery for capital allowance purposes, and expenditure on them might qualify for plant and machinery allowances.

This guide explains which types of assets might count as plant and machinery for capital allowance purposes, what capital allowances are available for them, and how to calculate and claim them.
This guide does not cover plant and machinery allowances relating to fixtures in buildings or structures, including certain integral features in buildings. For more information, see the guide 'Capital allowances relating to building and renovation'.
On this page:
----------

HMRC have taken a complicated chunk of statute and case law and made it as clear as possible to lawyers, tax advisors and their clients how HMRC inspectors will handle their case.

GDS can help HMRC?

Or is it the other way round?
While we were all in Italy, GDS launched a new project and a new blog to go with it – HMRC transition to GOV.UK.

The first post on that blog, 20 August 2013, says: "Over the next year we’ll be moving more than 100,000 pages of HMRC content to GOV.UK ...".

"We won’t be moving the HMRC online services that require you to login, e.g. when filing your tax return". Well of course they won't:
  • That's because GDS have failed to provide the identity assurance service they've been promising for years to replace the Government Gateway.
  • It may also be because HMRC would prefer to be able to carry on collecting tax.
"We also won’t be editing HMRC manuals and other content from the HMRC library". That's a relief. As tax people say. Given that a lot of people who know something about the subject work hard to get that content right.

No, they won't be editing the content, they'll be re-purposing it: "These [the manuals and the library] will move across to GOV.UK and will be repurposed into a format that is easier to search, easier to browse, easier to view and easier to print".

Why?

Why undertake this move and run the risk of breaking every link that holds the manuals together at the moment?

Apparently it's all to do with user needs as GDS primly informed us on 3 September 2013 in Putting user needs first.

No user who needs what was on http://www.hmrc.gov.uk to be moved to https://www.gov.uk has yet been identified.

Nevertheless, GDS will ...
... develop user stories like this one:

"As a homeowner, I plan to sell my house, and want to know if I will have to pay capital gains tax."

And this one:

"As a tax agent, I want to understand Principle [sic] Private Residence Relief, so that I can give my client the right advice."
"Whilst both these user stories relate to tax on property, the content required to satisfy these needs differs considerably in length and complexity." Really.

That's where GDS are starting from. Way up at the shallow end. And still out of their depth.

But they're agile, as they told us on 16 October 2013: "We communicate in an open forum, with daily stand-ups for 15 minutes every morning in front of our wall ... This is the continuously iterative process known as agile delivery".

Remember how, 10 paragraphs ago, GDS weren't going to do any editing?

On 29 October 2013 they published this:
Plain English is mandatory for all of GOV.UK. This means we don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do. [Like saying "stand-up" instead of "meeting"? "Re-purpose" instead of "edit"? "Communicate in an open forum" instead of "chat"?]

For example, we normally talk about sending something ... rather than ‘submitting’ it ...

We've recently been working with HMRC on moving VAT content to the ‘mainstream‘ ... part of GOV.UK. In the first draft, we used the plain English ‘sending your VAT return’ across all of this content.

However, our HMRC colleagues felt very strongly [44 Magnum?] that we should change this back to ‘submit’ to match the terminology used on the HMRC website, as this is ‘used frequently and known by VAT businesses’.
GDS have graciously backed down over the use of "submitting" after finding some little-used principles in their design manual and drawing a graph.

It's not as though GDS don't have anything else to do. Or HMRC for that matter, they've got plenty of work. GDS bring nothing to the party. To repeat, why are GDS putting themselves through this fatuous work-simulation?

Their latest explanation, 22 November 2013, is this:
In her 2010 report that helped create GOV.UK, Martha Lane-Fox [sic] emphasised the need to open up government transactions and content so that they can be delivered easily by commercial organisations and charities. She wrote that GOV.UK should be:
a wholesaler, as well as the retail shop front for government services & content, by mandating the development and opening-up of Application Programme [sic] Interfaces (APls) to third parties.
Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox told them to. That's a reason. It's for the APIs.

GDS have issued – sorry, sent – the following invitation:
We would like to invite all tax publishers to attend a briefing on GOV.UK. There will be an opportunity for questions on the day and if there is a need we can arrange follow up meetings on a later date. The workshop will be held on Monday 9 December from 1.30pm to 3.30pm at Aviation House. If you would like to attend, please contact the HMRC transition team.
If you've ever wondered what an applications program interface to a tax manual could do for you, why not nip along to the briefing and insist on GDS showing you one?

 

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