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05.09.13

‘Weak management’ of Universal Credit – damning NAO report

The National Audit Office (NAO) has criticised the DWP’s progress on developing and rolling out Universal Credit (UC), which has not achieved value for money.

The Government was “overly ambitious” in both timetable and scope, the report found, and so took risks to meet a short timescale, using a new project management approach which had never been used on a project of such size and complexity before.

While UC still has potential benefit, the NAO warned that the DWP has no adequate measures of progress and must develop more realistic plans for roll-out.

Millions have so far been spent on IT, yet £34m of this technology has been written off and multiple manual checks on claims and payments will not be feasible or adequate once running nationally.

Pilots for UC will be extended to six more sites as the national roll-out is delayed from October, but the NAO found that the Government has so far been unable to address the underlying issues effectively.

Additional criticisms include the absence of a detailed view of how UC is meant to work, poor control and decision making leading to a lack of progress, and a lack of IT expertise and senior leadership within the DWP.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The Department’s plans for Universal Credit were driven by an ambitious timescale, and this led to the adoption of a systems development approach new to the Department. The relatively high risk trajectory was not, however, matched by an appropriate management approach. Instead, the programme suffered from weak management, ineffective control and poor governance.

“Universal Credit could well go on to achieve considerable benefits if the Department learns from these early setbacks and puts realistic plans and strong discipline in place for its future roll-out.”

Iain Duncan Smith, work and pensions secretary, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “I fully accept, because I could have written this report myself, that the problem was that those charged with putting together the detail of the IT – we rely on people telling us that is correct – did not make the correct decisions. But we intervened to change that and all the programme directors from outside have said we did the right thing. Even the report says this is the right process.”

He added: “What went wrong with the universal credit team – and they [the NAO] are right about this – there was a sense that somehow they just wanted to be able to say it was all going well. And that was the key problem.

“I agree with that, which is why in 2011, with my concerns, I changed the programme to introduce a pathfinder and why in 2012, after my own independent review told me that my concerns were justified, we made changes to personnel and brought in outside people.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Image: Rue Vieira / PA Wire

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