More than 200 jobs are to be axed from data security at HM Revenue and Customs, adding to the risk to personal data, the PCS civil service union has warned.
HMRC is still at the centre of inquiries into the data security fiasco that saw 25 million people’s details, held on two CDs of child benefit claimant data, go missing last year.
The Treasury had pledged that a review of the major incident at HMRC, carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers chair Keiron Poynter would report on the “exact circumstances” of Britain’s biggest ever security breach by 14 December.
But Poynter issued only a six-page interim document last month, outlining emergency security measures taken by HMRC and a very brief progress report on his probe. Instead, the government published a more comprehensive report on data handling carried out by cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell.
In the meantime, a further security breach at HMRC – involving the loss of 6,500 pensioners’ details – came to light at the end of December.
The PCS union believes financial cuts and IT job losses at HMRC are a “major factor” in the loss of personal data. It highlighted the loss of 158 jobs in HMRC management information services over the past six months, warning that a total of 227 jobs would be cut from “the area looking after data security” by the end of March.
The IT staff reductions are part of a requirement that HMRC cut 25,000 jobs by 2011 and reduce budgets by 5% a year to meet civil service efficiency targets. Contractor Capgemini is also set to axe up to 600 staff working on the massive Aspire IT contract at HMRC.
PCS officials also highlighted the apparent fear of incurring extra costs that prevented HMRC stripping out sensitive information from the child benefit data it held before it was downloaded onto the two CDs. An HMRC manual on protective data security was not in wide circulation nor readily available to the majority of staff, the union added.