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28.09.14

Sir Bob Kerslake says universal credit is ‘undeliverable’

The former head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, has warned that the timetable for the controversial universal credit is “undeliverable” and that public sector cuts may last five more years.

Sir Bob’s remarks were made in a speech to the Institute of Government. In it he said that the timetable for the universal credit scheme is “too tight” and that the Department of Work and Pensions has a “culture of good news” that prevents this from being recognised.

Kerslake, who stepped down in July as head of the civil service but remains permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government until February 2015, said universal credit was “undeliverable” in the timetable originally set out by the DWP, but that this was not recognised in time by the department, because of a prevailing culture of deference within the civil service.

The universal credit project has been beset with problems since it was first proposed and last year the whole project was ‘reset’, and £600m already spent on it was written off.

In the same speech, Sir Bob also said that spending cuts in the public sector may continue for another five years, no matter which party is in charge.

He said, “Suffice it to say that under any government, we face up to a further five years of austerity in public sector spending.

“The first five years have been challenging but the second five years are likely to prove even harder for three reasons.

“Firstly, the easier savings have already been made. Secondly, we are likely to be doing it against a background of a growing economy and greater competition for good staff. Thirdly, the sense of urgency that underpinned the first savings programme will be reduced.

“In reality, the task is not yet complete. But this will be hard to explain to those in the public sector, including our own staff, who are looking for some relief.”

He also made mention of three “drivers” of reform, including economic growth, austerity and public trust.

“I have gone on at length about these drivers because I think they provide the enduring reasons for change and reform that go beyond current individuals and even governments,” he continued. “The civil service is not and never was broken. But if it wants to stay relevant and be the best it can be, it must continue to reform.

“Let me move on to the question ‘How far have we got?’ In short, I think that a great deal has been delivered that the civil service should take great pride in.”

(Image: c. Cabinet Office)

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