Business

Policy

Defra to MPs: There's no way Brexit IT can be as crap as rural payments

Look, we're used to dealing with cock-ups

By Kat Hall

80 SHARE

The IT challenges posed by Brexit to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are "significantly less complex" than its woeful Common Agricultural Payments system, Defra's permanent secretary has told MPs.

Around half of Defra's Brexit-related programmes (20) contain an IT element, making the department one of the most exposed to leaving the EU because 80 per cent of its work is framed by the bloc's policy.

Common Agricultural Policy IT has a troubled history, coming into the spotlight once again in 2015 due to a botched £215m IT system for the Rural Payments Agency. Given its track record, perm sec Clare Moriarty was yesterday asked by the Public Accounts Committee how confident she was in the Brexit IT plans.

She said: "I can assure you that we are very mindful of, and [have looked] closely at what lessons we can take from the most recent experience of implementing the CAP system."

She identified four systems that the department would have to build in a no-deal scenario. "These are builds that are significantly less complex than the CAP delivery system... If you look at the CAP delivery system, it had a very complicated rules engine... an interface with a mapping-based system, and 88,000 people who all need to access it directly.

"The import control IT system, which is the most complicated one we need to introduce, is relatively straightforward [although] I would never underestimate the complexity of IT... there are only around 3,000 expert users who will need to work with it."

The remainder of the projects are either "at the end of a process of discovery" or "slightly further back, depending on how large or critical we think the elements might be", she said. Some of those will need permanent IT system replacements further down the line "but that is something we can do in slightly slower time".

Moriarty was also asked how her department intended to cope with the fact some of its IT systems will depend on policy not yet developed.

She said the ones it needs to develop most quickly are where it is "pretty clear on what the policy and needs are going to be" with the department making do with its current systems and adapting them where appropriate.

Committee chair Meg Hillier observed that Defra hopes its systems will "limp over Brexit period". The department is seeking around £200m from the Treasury in preparation for Brexit.

So far it has released 100 people into its digital data and technology service and is working with a number of partners to meet the "delivery timetables". Defra set up its Brexit IT programmes early on, Moriarty said.

Key programmes at risk of delays or failure were the department's import controls systems, the database replacement for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, the export health certificates, catch certificate for marine caught fish for human consumption, and the system for veterinary medicines.

"That group of projects are constantly at front of mind," said Moriarty. ®

Sign up to our NewsletterGet IT in your inbox daily

80 Comments

More from The Register

We're doomed: Defra's having a cow over its Brexit IT preparations

Department at high risk of failure in case of no deal

Oh good, half of Defra's Brexit projects involve IT

Don't worry, many of those are now in 'discovery' phase...

Defra recruiting 1,400 policy wonks to pick up the pieces after Brexit

Exclusive Prising IT systems from decades of EU lawmaking

GDPR stands for Google Doing Positively, Regardless. Webpage trackers down in Europe – except Big G's

Wait.... this wasn't in the script

Visa Europe fscks up Friday night with other GDPR: 'God Dammit, Payment Refused'

Updated 'Hardware failure' blamed for ruining revelries

Peak smartphone? Phone fatigue hits Western Europe hard

♫ We're so bored with your USP ♫

Azure North Europe downed by the curse of the Irish – sunshine

Microsoft data center went sideways this week for hours with cooling issue

Sure, Europe. Here's our Android suite without Search, Chrome apps. Now pay the Google tax

Ad giant to charge for key applications amid license shakeup and antitrust fine

Microsoft Azure Europe embraced the other GDPR: Generally Down, Possibly Recovering

Updated 'To save the data centre, we had to shut it down' is the gist of the explanation

Europe is living in the past (by nearly six minutes) thanks to Serbia and Kosovo

Continental electric clocks go TITSUP*