Guest blog: Taking Welsh taxes to new heights

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

WRA LogoThe Welsh Revenue Authority (WRA) is the new tax authority for Wales, responsible for administering two new devolved taxes in Wales. The WRA was formally established by Welsh Government on 18 October 2017. One year on, Sean Melody, Digital Services Manager for the WRA explains the approach and the challenges, from a digital perspective, to establishing the WRA.

 

Avatar of Sean MelodyI work as part of the Digital services team and joined in September 2017 to help support the WRA implementation programme, which was led by Welsh Government. The WRA was legally established on 18 October last year, with just 25 members of staff. We’re now marking our first milestone since our formation, with more than 60 members of staff working across around 16 different professions. We’ve come a long way, and I’m proud to be working for the first cloud-based civil service organisation set up in Wales! In simple terms, that means all of our digital tax systems, including the calls we handle at our helpdesk, are hosted via the cloud.

 The digital challenge…
To administer the first taxes from 1 April 2018, we had to deliver a new bespoke online tax system, which would allow legal professionals to file and submit returns online. We also had to ensure the corporate technology was fit-for-purpose for all WRA staff. These two large-scale tasks were set against a deadline of 1 April 2018 – our ‘go live’ date – which was immovable and enshrined in law.

 An agile approach…
From the outset, we made sure that we had signed up to agile ways of working. This enabled us to take an iterative approach, adapting to the needs of legal professionals as they evolved. We began work on the online systems and the corporate technology by running full discovery exercises with the two different groups, including legal professionals and our staff. The online tax system involved running workshops with legal professionals to understand user needs. The feedback from the workshops gave us a clear idea of what was required to move onto the next stage of development. On the corporate technology side, we began rolling out new devices to WRA staff in October 2017. We started with a small number of users and used feedback from staff to tailor our offering.

 A Cloud-native first…
One of the major benefits of the WRA is that we are a cloud-native organisation. This means that an internet connection is all our staff require, including our helpdesk team. The helpdesk team can be working in any location with a healthy internet connection and still manage our small contact centre. Our technology and set up was put to the test in March, just 3 weeks before ‘go live’ when snow hit most of Wales. Our staff could work safely from home, if they wanted, and still support service users.

 Partnering for success…
With the help of the Welsh Government’s ICT and digital teams, and digital suppliers, we were able to successfully go-live on the 1 April with our online tax system and the required corporate technology for WRA staff. Working with others has played a key role in getting to where we are today. For example, as we are dealing with sensitive taxpayer information, it was important that the security testing and approach we took involved experts from Welsh Government, HMRC, National Cyber Security Centre and our third-party suppliers.

 The results…
We’ve had some challenges along the way and, at times, I felt it was hard to know where to start some days with what seemed like an impossible task. However, by the end of the first 3 months, 97% of transactions relating to Land Transaction Tax were made online. In total we now have more than 4,000 registered users, and during the first quarter we received a total of 15,000 tax returns. For more information and updates, see our official statistics published on our website.

Get in touch…
As the Digital Services Manager for the WRA, I’m now responsible for ensuring the digital services are fully operational and meeting user needs day-to-day. As a team, we’re focused on skills development and we’re keen to grow our own Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) skills. If you have a keen interest in government technology and are looking to work in South Wales, keep an eye out on our website for future vacancies.

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