HMRC triples spend on data roles to more than £12m

taxman new tooThe UK taxman is increasingly turning to data science techniques to run its operations with the latest official figures revealing HMRC has almost tripled its yearly spend on data roles over the past five years.

The move, uncovered following a Freedom of Information request by the Parliament Street think tank, shows a large uptake in data analyst and data science staff year on year from 2017 to 2021, alongside the estimated expenditure on salaries.

Over the reporting period, HMRC’s estimated staff bill rose 192% from £4,244,879 to £12,414,306 with the number of data staff increasing from 139 to 354.

Last year saw the largest surge with an additional 78 staff joining HMRC in data roles, resulting in an estimated staff bill rise of £3,339,317.

At the last count, there was an 90-strong data team reporting to chief data officer Kevin Fletcher, who left the organisation in January 2021 after 15 years in the role to take up the role of CDO at social media safety and crisis monitoring firm Crisp.

His successor has yet to be announced, despite the recruitment process kicking off in April last year.

HMRC described the CDO position as “one of the biggest roles in the UK”, with a remit that includes delivering data-centric cultural change across HMRC, encompassing “strategic vision, technology and process roadmap, direction and budget, [and] ensuring that execution of the strategy is aligned with organisational objectives”.

The data teams at HMRC mainly work to collect and clean data, create statistical models, and form visualisations to present data in a meaningful way, however, HMRC’s HR system only allows the recording of one profession for each staff member, and, as a result, the figures are likely to be just a fraction of the number of data analysts and data scientists employed.

Neil Parker, general manager EMEA at artificial intelligence specialist Laiye, told City AM: “As we emerge from the chaos of the coronavirus outbreak, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and data processes remains vital for developing and delivering first class public services.

“HMRC should be commended for boosting its data science capabilities – by bringing in specialist expertise it can simultaneously reduce overheads through automation and ensure staff are set free to concentrate on key customer services and delivery.”

The findings coincide with the Cabinet Office opening the search for a new chief data officer for the UK Government, the most senior role in digital, data and technology in Whitehall and commanding an salary of £190,000.

Leading a team of around 200 specialists and SMEs in the Central Digital & Data Office, it is a director general level job, reporting up to Civil Service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm.

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