Universal Credit, “Slight Delay” as Report Dams “Weak Management, Ineffective Control and Poor Governance.”
On the BBC this morning this was a major story.
“Universal credit: Flagship welfare reform ‘poor value’ says watchdog.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith, dismissed this report.
He bravely admitted that he had “taken the right decision” and put the programme on track for its “Autumn Roll-out”.
Any problems had been fixed.
There would, however, be a “slight delay” in introducing Universal Credit nationwide.
The National Audit Office says,
The National Audit Office has concluded that the Department for Work and Pensions has not achieved value for money in its early implementation of Universal Credit. The Department is not yet able to assess the value of the systems it spent over £300 million to develop and has been forced to delay the national roll-out of the programme to claimants.
Today’s report concludes that the Department was overly ambitious in both the timetable and scope of the programme. The Department took risks to try to meet the short timescale and used a new project management approach which it had never before used on a programme of this size and complexity. It was unable to explain how it originally decided on its ambitious plans or evaluated their feasibility.
Given the tight timescale, unfamiliar project management approach and lack of a detailed plan, it was critical that the Department should have good progress information and effective controls. In practice the Department did not have any adequate measures of progress.
The spending watchdog found that the Department took some action at the end of 2012 to resolve problems, but was unable to address the underlying issues effectively. The source of many problems has been the absence of a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work. In addition, poor control and decision-making undermined confidence in the programme and contributed to a lack of progress. The Department has particularly lacked IT expertise and senior leadership, with frequent changes in senior management.
Key points from the official summary of the Report to begin with,
12. The Department started a limited pilot scheme (a ‘pathﬁnder’) in April 2013.
By the end of July, the Department had expanded the pathﬁnder to four sites and had
taken around 1,000 new claims. The scope of the pathﬁnder is narrower than originally
planned, covers only the simplest new claims and includes limited IT functionality. Some
processes require intervention by staff, limiting the scalability of the pathﬁnder model
without further IT investment. The Department believes that the pathﬁnder is testing
claimant behaviour. Early indications suggest that over 90 per cent of new claims are
started on-line (paragraphs 2.7 to 2.9 and 2.16)
13 The Department has delayed rolling out Universal Credit nationally. The
Department will not introduce Universal Credit for all new out-of-work claims nationally
from October 2013 as planned. Instead it will add a further six pathﬁnder sites from
October 2013. It will also apply the claimant commitment to all Jobseeker’s Allowance
claimants by April 2014 but this will not depend on introducing Universal Credit
payments. The Department is now reconsidering the timing of full roll-out. To keep to
the 2017 completion date, the Department would have to migrate a large volume of
claimants within a short time frame (paragraphs 2.11 to 2.14).
14 The Department does not yet know to what extent its new IT systems will
support national roll-out. Universal Credit pathﬁnder systems have limited function
and do not allow claimants to change details of their circumstances online as originally
intended. The Department does not yet have an agreed plan for national roll-out and
has been unclear about how far it will build on pathﬁnder systems or replace them.
In May 2013, the Department identiﬁed the need to write off £34 million (17 per cent) of
its new IT assets. The Department will undertake a further impairment review when it
has conﬁrmed its plans for the future of the programme. The current senior responsible
owner took over in May 2013 and is revising plans (paragraphs 2.16 to 2.20).
15 The Department will have to scale back its original delivery ambition and is
reassessing what it must do to roll-out Universal Credit to claimants. The current
programme team is developing new plans for Universal Credit. Our experience of major
programmes supported by IT suggests that the Department will need to revise the
programme’s timing and scope, particularly around online transactions and automation.
It is unlikely that Universal Credit will be as simple or cheap to administer as originally
intended. Delays to roll-out.
23 At this early stage of the Universal Credit programme the Department has not
achieved value for money. The Department has delayed rolling out Universal Credit to
claimants, has had weak control of the programme, and has been unable to assess the
value of the systems it spent over £300 million to develop. These problems represent a
signiﬁcant setback to Universal Credit and raise wider concerns about the Department’s
ability to deal with weak programme management, over-optimistic time-scales, and a
lack of openness about progress.
This ends with recommendations which will have to examined in detail.
They involve some substantial changes.
Like the military man that he is Ian Duncan Smith is still prepared to send his troops over the trench tops, regardless…