HMRC has refused to answer questions over how much it is paying IT services giants Accenture and Capgemini to extend their Aspire outsourcing contracts until at least 2020.
The two companies are the lead suppliers of the £10bn Aspire contract, for which HMRC splashes out in excess of £700m a year in a contract that is supposed to run until June this year.
However, HMRC has struggled to put a viable alternative in place, despite working on the project for more than two years.
Last year, HMRC extended Accenture's application services agreement deal until 2020, just a few months after announcing that Capgemini would remain a ‘strategic supplier' in application development and maintenance services for the same duration.
The Capgemini deal was specifically related to the phased transition of the Aspire contract. The IT services company said it would support HMRC's decision to take greater control of IT by shifting a number of services before June 2017.
It said that it would continue as a ‘strategic supplier' in applications development and management services in areas such as SAP, analytics and testing, but also contribute to HMRC's digital transformation programme.
Meanwhile, the Accenture contract was an extension to another long-term outsourcing deal, which focused on National Insurance and PAYE Service (NPS). The company will be tasked with developing new digital functionality for tax services, including the release of a cloud-hosted tax-management platform for taxpayers.
V3 made a freedom of information (FOI) request, asking HMRC what it had spent on the extension of the Capgemini and Accenture contracts.
In its response, the organisation said it held some of the information requested, but that it would be withheld because it is considered commercially sensitive.
"HMRC believe that the disclosure of contractual information with suppliers would prejudice HMRC's commercial interests," it said.
"The disclosure of this information would be likely to compromise HMRC's and our supplier's commercial position and future procurement exercises," it said.
The organisation accepted that there was strong public interest in HMRC being accountable for its decisions and that the public had a right to know that the organisation is spending taxpayers' money prudently.
However, it added: "While 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 challenged to ensure HMRC is accountable".
HMRC stated that the disclosure of the information could even weaken its partners' position and harm the relationship between HMRC and the supplier.
"This would in itself undermine the commercial interests of both parties and potentially the efficacy of the contract.
"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," it said.
"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 [HMRC] considers the public interest favours maintaining the exemption," it added.
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