Performance Improvement in the Public Sector
Traders were faced with a new and daunting challenge when the UK voted to leave the EU. It was the first time that many had faced dealing with customs declarations that were complex to understand, and there were too few established customs intermediaries to meet the sudden demand. Trade with the EU was set to take a significant hit. Therefore, there was an urgent need to increase customs support capacity.
HMRC asked PwC to create a scheme to help them support businesses with their customs transactions. They wanted a partner who could design, implement and run a grant-funding scheme that gave businesses access to the support necessary to prepare for the new trading regime, and PwC delivered an exceptionally effective ‘turnkey’ solution. It translated HMRC’s policy aims into a digital application and due diligence process, and PwC also helped promote the scheme, process over 10,000 applications and ultimately provide over £83m of grant support to help maintain the UK’s essential trade with the EU. IT capability for customs transactions was improved, more staff were employed across the UK, and skills were developed through training and specialist advice.
PwC’s solution combined three key aspects. First, they created a simple online portal for businesses to access information about the scheme and make applications. Second, they set up a help centre, offering telephone and email support, and an additional email application process for businesses without the skills or access to use the portal. Third, they harnessed data from the website and help centre to create interactive dashboards, so HMRC could monitor the scheme’s performance, in real time.
PwC were able to stand up each of these elements at pace, launching the first scheme within 16 days of the announcement in parliament and the start of their contract with HMRC. They built on this pace throughout the lifetime of the schemes, and as more funding became available, redeveloped guidance, technology and processes, launching the main and most significant wave of funding within 10 days of contracting.
Although originally aimed at customs intermediaries, the original HMRC Customs Grant Scheme was expanded a further three times and then, as it proved so successful, was ultimately expanded a fifth time to include direct support traders. The first four waves of the Customs Grant Scheme were oversubscribed, with 8,000 businesses successfully supported. The project surpassed expectations, and demand exceeded what the scheme could deliver within its limited timeframe and funding. Notably, the funding was delivered equitably, with the geographic distribution of grants reflecting the spread of businesses across the UK.
The grant scheme also proved HMRC’s general service model, which underpinned other COVID-19 support schemes helping UK businesses to keep trading over the past two years. Ultimately, this project has helped to ensure that UK-EU trade has continued to flow and businesses have been able to meet the new customs processes and regulation. It leaves behind a legacy of having made the unprecedented happen at pace, and given HMRC a model for the delivery of future services.
View the PwC profile in the MCA Members Directory.