The committee said the project - to merge six separate means-tested working age benefits into a single payment - had been beset by a string of problems and still faced considerable challenges if it was to achieve its long-term objectives.
'Pointing the finger'
initial estimates suggest at least £140m, spent on IT systems which cannot be used, will have to be written off but the full losses could be much higher, and may take up much of the £425m spent on the project to April 2013, the report says.
The failure to develop a comprehensive plan has led to extensive delay and the waste of a yet to be determined amount of public money”
Margaret HodgeLabour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee
Labour sources on the committee have told BBC News there was a "concerted" effort by Conservative members to shift the blame from Mr Duncan Smith on to his permanent secretary Robert Devereux.
One source said there had been a number of extra meetings and discussions over amendments "pointing the finger" at Mr Devereux but the committee eventually rejected the criticisms of the official in the final text of the report.
These claims were categorically denied by Mr Duncan Smith's spokeswoman, who said: "Iain has not asked for anyone to be named in the report. He has publicly supported the Department for Work and Pensions permanent secretary throughout this whole process."
The committee's Labour chairman Margaret Hodge said she had not been approached by Mr Duncan Smith, but sidestepped questions about whether she was aware of pressure being put on Conservative colleagues.
Conservative MP Steve Barclay, a member of the committee, said he could "absolutely rebuff" the suggestion that Mr Duncan Smith had tried to influence the committee, which is meant to be non-partisan and impartial.
David Cameron's official spokesman was asked several times to confirm that the prime minister was "confident" that universal credit would be delivered on time and on budget, but did not do so.
Instead, he told reporters: "The department is working to the 2017 timetable. That is the timetable that the department continues to work to. That is the target the department is shooting for and we are going to continue to work towards it in the way we are."
The spokesman was asked whether it would be proper for a secretary of state to approach members of a select committee ahead of the publication of a report in the way alleged of Mr Duncan Smith.
From October 2013 to April 2014 about half a million new claimants were due to receive universal credit instead of jobseeker's allowance, employment support allowance, income support, housing benefit, working tax credit and child tax credit.
At the same time, another half a million existing claimants and their families were due to be transferred to the new credit when their family circumstances changed significantly - for instance if they got a job or had another child.
From April 2014 a further 3.5 million claimants and their families were due to move to universal credit.
And from the end of 2015 to the end of 2017 a further three million people are due to be moved over, focusing on housing benefit claimants
He replied: "There are procedures that are in place for the relationship between departments and select committees and that is something the Department for Work and Pensions have been very clear about."
Asked if the prime minister was "completely happy" with Mr Duncan Smith's handling of the implementation of universal credit, Mr Cameron's spokesman said: "He thinks that the secretary of state and the department are doing exactly the right thing in rolling this out in a progressive way and in a way that allows us to learn lessons as we go.
"That is what is being done and he very much supports that."
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Nov 23, 2013 18:18:06 GMT
More on the hidden cost of Universal Chaos.....
Training people to use universal credit 'could cost hundreds of millions'
Research shows many benefit claimants will need extensive help to get online, open bank accounts and manage budgets
By Patrick Butler, Social Policy Editor 21st November 2013
Iain Duncan Smith has called universal credit a chance for claimants to .get back in to the 21st century'. Photograph: Ian Nicholson/PA
Equipping benefit claimants with the digital and financial skills to use the government's new universal credit welfare system is likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds, unpublished research commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has found.
The study, carried out by three London councils using DWP data and a methodology agreed with Whitehall officials, found they would each need to spend about £6m over a two-year period to support vulnerable claimants to get online, help them open bank accounts and manage monthly budgets.
The research, seen by the Guardian, , reveals the extent to which socially excluded claimants will struggle with the huge cultural and behavioural changes demanded by universal credit, and warns that without help, those who fail to get to grips with the new welfare system will face debts, arrears and eviction, leading to a rise in homelessness.
It suggests councils, charities and private companies will be required to deliver millions of hours of specialist training and support face-to face and over the telephone to ensure claimants are confident and technically proficient enough to use the system.
Around one in 10 users of the system are likely to need intensive or ongoing support, it finds.
The scale and cost will unnerve ministers, who are struggling to roll out the beleaguered £2.4bn universal credit system, and have admitted that they have already written off £34m on failed IT systems for the project, though departmental estimates suggest the total figure for write-offs could reach at least £140m. Ministers are expected to decide by Christmas whether to write off universal credit altogether and start again, or reduce it in size and complexity to make it more manageable.
Those behind universal credit see it as an opportunity to tackle digital and financial exclusion for up to 8m households. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has called it a chance for claimants to "get back in to the 21st century".
But while they anticipated that this would require some investment, they are understood to be taken aback by the potential size of the support bill - which could reach £100m for London alone - and have ordered departmental analysts to see if it can be reduced.
Under universal credit, six existing benefits will be rolled into a single monthly payment, out of which claimants will be expected to pay rent, spread living costs over a four-week period, and provide regular online updates marking changes in their income and job status. Unemployed claimants will also have to search for jobs online.
The Centre for Social Justice thinktank, which helped design universal credit, urged ministers to take "great care" to ensure that vulnerable claimants are properly supported to use the system. "Unnecessary and unmanageable debt would severely undermine the important principle behind this welfare change," it said in a report this week.
It astounds me that government now recognises the need to shell out millions more pounds on training people to familiarise themselves with Universal Credit.
The extra millions come on top of a potential £425 which will have to be written off on wasted IT implementation despite IDS's continual assurances to everyone that his pet project was/is 'on track, on time and on budget'
Wind the clock back to the legal aid debates and recall how the same government was telling us all that claimants didn't need any help when battling with the Secretary of State in endless tribunals hearings made necessary by virtue of the fact that the DWP simply makes far too many incorrect decisions. How many times did we point out that complex benefit disputes required the intervention of skilled benefit specialists to guide people through the appeals system?
And now government concedes it needs to spend millions to help people with what is essentially on-line form filling?
Britain’s most senior civil servant intervened with David Cameron to help save the career of a permanent secretary who felt he was being “hounded out” of office by his political masters, The Independent has learnt.
Sir Jeremy Heywood told the Prime Minister that, as the de facto head of the civil service, he was concerned about the “concerted political briefing campaign” against Robert Devereux over failures in the Government’s universal credit programme.
He is understood to have made clear that he did not believe Mr Devereux should be singled out for blame for the project and that responsibility also lay with Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary. He is also said to have pointed out that the public undermining a permanent secretary was harming civil service morale and was unfair because, as a government official, Mr Devereux was unable to defend himself.
Sir Jeremy’s intervention is understood to have been behind a very unusual statement by Mr Duncan Smith, released earlier this month in which he stated he had “every confidence” with the team implementing universal credit adding “and that team includes Robert Devereux”.
The meeting followed weeks of hostile briefings in the media against Mr Devereux blaming him for failures in getting to grips with the troubled universal credit programme.
Several newspapers, including The Independent, quoted political sources saying that he faced losing his job over universal credit. One reported that Mr Duncan Smith had rebuked civil servants in his department, accusing them of lacking professionalism and having a “culture of secrecy”.
But most damaging of all were allegations that members of the Government had approached Tory MPs on the Public Accounts Committee to ask that its report “name and shame” Mr Devereux and help force him out.
A Government source told The Independent: “There was a lot of anger at the very top of the civil service about the way Robert was being treated. He had fallen out with [Francis] Maude and Duncan Smith and they were basically trying to force him out by blaming all the failures of universal credit on him.
“But for God’s sake Duncan Smith was the minister in charge and it was his one big project. If he didn’t know things were going wrong then he clearly wasn’t doing his job properly either.”
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Nov 24, 2013 23:28:40 GMT
More from Brian Wernham on Universal Credit.....
Substantial write-off of £425m spent on Universal Credit IT “Highly likely” says today’s PAC report
November 7, 2013
The long awaited Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee report on the Universal Credit project has just been published. It makes grim reading. “Value not secured on £425m spent so far” says the cross-bench committee of MPs which is chaired by Margaret Hodge MP.
The report appears to exonerate Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith. It criticises DWP Permanent Secretary, Robert Devereaux, who was “only aware of a problem with the programme” after Minister Iain Duncan Smith commissioned a review. The MPs’ personal criticism of the Permanent Secretary includes the observation that he was “unaware of difficulties because internal monitoring not working properly” and that his governance arrangements were “not remotely adequate” and that he provided “inadequate scrutiny and challenge”
The responsibilities of a Permanent Secretary to execute a policy are simply along the lines of “The buck stops here!“. The Permanent Secretary must take the rap for problems unless he seeks a Ministerial Direction. (See here for more on this:bit.ly/dwp-ministerial-direction-blog).
So what new do we find in the report? Much is a rehash of September’s National Audit Office’s detailed and withering criticism of the DWP’s execution of the Universal Credit Programme. On top of this are transcripts of the several hours of evidence taken in open committee. But there is some interesting analysis, especially regarding the inadequacy of the existing ‘Pathfinder’ pilots of the policy, which some media outlets have misleadingly called a ‘national roll-out’.
Margaret Hodge’s committee is in no doubt about the state of the little existing IT that actually is in use. The committee members personally visited Ashton-under-Lyne and saw Job Centre staff having to carry out manual calculations and retype data from one system into another. Their conclusion is that the system that is live so far “cannot be scaled up for number & complexity of claimants ultimately needed” and that even DWP’s revised target of 184,000 claimants being on the system by April 2014 will now not be met. “Progress is significantly below target, at 2,500″ they say.
It has emerged that DWP and the National Audit Office are at loggerheads on the matter of the real value of systems that have been built so far. The head of the NAO, Amyas Morse, stated that “We do not regard there to have been an adequate review” of the spend so far. The MPs’ report notes that “It is highly likely that a substantial part of the expenditure on IT development will have to be written off.”. As I have previously noted, DWP’s Annual Report and Accounts are now seriously overdue. When these accounts are published we will not only see clearly how much of the £425m spend so far has been wasted, but DWP will have to come clean on the issue of the adequacy of its risk management systems.
The MPs note serious failings in internal controls. An example is where a “personal assistant approved a £23m contract” when even the Programme Director only had £10m sign-off authority…
Other interesting items that are new from the report:
- DWP “gave misleading interviews to the press regarding progress (even) after it became aware of difficulties”.
- The revised business case is expected “hopefully this side of Christmas”, until then the benefits of Universal Credit are unclear. This will include a revision of the £1.2bn reduction in fraud and error which originally rested on the installation of the scrapped security system (listen to the interview with the anonymous whistle-blower here).
- A warning that DWP will either not test the system properly or delay all the more complex cases into 2017 thus hiding the full scale of the problem until as late as possible.
- Hodge’s committee recommends that Cabinet Office’s Major Project Authority (MPA) should intervene in failing projects in future. Up until now the MPA has had only a monitoring role. Intervention is the new watchword, confirm my contacts…
Finally, the report sums up, saying that DWP “does not know final cost of IT, expected savings, or when existing benefits will finally phased out”.
The revised business case is expected “hopefully this side of Christmas” according to the Cabinet Office. We also await the publication of the much delayed annual report and accounts…
Update: November 7th, 2013: Computer Weekly claims that when the Universal Credit project got underway, DWP avoided scruitiny by arranging an opt-out of the otherwise ‘compulsory’ Integrated Assurance and Approvals Process (IAAP) that the Cabinet Office requires all large projects to comply with.
Update: November 7th, 2013: The DWP releases a typically chirpy press release saying that attempts to rebut the PAC report on 4 points. Firstly, repeating the claim that UC will ultimately bring a £38bn in economic benefits, despite agreeing with the Treasury that the existing business case is inadequate. Secondly, that a new leadership team is in place. One thing that UC has not lacked is a continual churn of leadership. NAO noted that there have been five changes in 12 months. Thirdly, continuing to trumpet the very limited and compromised Pathfinder roll-out to a few meagre postcodes. And finally “We don’t recognise the write off figure quoted by the committee”, which is strange, since all the figures in the PAC report are simply lifted from the NAO report which was agreed with DWP before publication (as NAO figures always are). See www.gov.uk/government/news/public-accounts-committee-report-universal-credit-early-progress
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Dec 3, 2013 21:03:13 GMT
IDS's 'Welfare revolution' unfolds
Strangely the DWP Press Office are silent
Surely the media should be having a field day with this?
For months & months Iain Duncan Smith has been telling us how his 'Universal Credit' is the way ahead with an assurance that 8 million households will see their lives transformed by his new 'single streamlined' benefit, his promise to revolutionise the UK welfare benefit sysytem has been promoted at every opportunity as a means of guaranteeing that people will find their way back in to employment with continually bleated promises that 'work will always pay'.
And here we are in September 2013, well on our way to the end of the Coalition's first (and hopefully last) term in office, and the normally noisy DWP Press Office shamefully fails to promote the first official set of DWP statistics for the Pathfinder phase of Universal Credit.
The truth is they have nothing to shout about, the results are nothing short of dreadful.....
Just 2,150 Universal Credit Claimants?
Yet another glorified DWP report with more stretched graphs and all manner of irrelevant facts can't hide the fact that between April 2013 and September 2013 a mere 2,150 claimants have claimed the new credit, 3 out of 4 being under the age of 25. What appalls me most is that as of September 2013 only 20 claimants were aged 50 or over. The Public Accounts Committee recently revealed that it's very much looking like up to £425 million will end up being written off as the DWP fails spectacularly to get this disastrous experiment off the ground. It is absolutely staggering that of such a low number the DWP still manage to classify 70 claimants as 'unknown, missing or other'.
Surely the time has now come for IDS to stop passing the buck and to finally accept that he's got welfare reform badly wrong?
Whilst it's entirely acceptable to slowly phase a new benefit in gradually, there is still a need to show some serious sign of delivering upon a promise. It's very clear that Universal Credit won't be delivering any reductions in the welfare budget for many years to come. It's been misrepresented to the public and grossly over promoted as a positive step in the right direction.
We are told we need to see reductions in welfare expenditure now; not in the years ahead of us.
Isn't it strange that IDS doesn't advocate a 'steady' approach to the mass reassessment of the sick? It's somehow acceptable for the DWP to be assessing 100,000 sick and disabled claimants every month in a failing attempt to prove 75% are faking their illness but when it comes to lifting them out of poverty we are seeing a mere handful of claimants getting help - it's beyond bizarre.
When will the most incompetent minister in Parliament be properly held to account for his catastrophic failure to get any of his welfare reforms right?
Why is this man allowed to continue in his current position of office?
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Dec 14, 2013 20:42:35 GMT
So Universal Credit doesn't make work pay after all
Massive cut backs for 'Hardworking People'
Stealth cuts are making universal credit toxic to the working poor
Concerns about IT bungling and delays obscure a series of cuts that are changing the policy's character before it's even in place
'Doubtless some will say these are trifling sums. Well, it won't feel like that to a family living off less than £20k and whose wages and tax credits have already plummeted.' Photograph: Chris Rout/Alamy
Few things in politics are certain, but certain policy announcements elicit a predictable media response. Tinker with the tax treatment of the elderly and prepare to be accused of imposing a "granny tax". Or, more hopefully for the coalition, increase the generosity of the personal tax allowance and read about "tax cuts for low earners".
So here's another one: stealth cuts in the support for the working poor receive scant media interest. At least that seemed to be the lesson last week when the autumn statement confirmed a further £600m raid on the troubled universal credit – a move that didn't cause a ripple.
You won't have read about this, even in a week when universal credit has barely been out of the papers. True, the Treasury buried it in the small print. But that's par for the course. Something tells me that if there had been a similarly sized tax hike on the rich you'd probably know about it by now.
The unwelcome news comes mainly in the form of a cash freeze in the amount that households will be able to earn – their "work allowance" – before they start seeing their universal credit withdrawn. The principle is similar to that of the personal tax allowance, except for those on universal credit (UC) this work allowance is of dramatically greater consequence: everything above it is taxed at least 65p in the pound.
The decision to erode the value of the work allowance year on year rather than uprate it with inflation is going to hit four out of five of the 4 million working families expected to be on UC. The size of the loss will vary with family circumstance – homeowners are more affected than renters – but a single parent will be up to £420 worse off in 2017. For a couple with children it will be £230. The figures will be larger if inflation is higher than projected – the poor now shoulder that risk.
Doubtless some will say these are trifling sums. Well, it won't feel like that to a family living off less than £20k and whose wages and tax credits have already plummeted. Nor should it be seen in isolation – it's just one of many cuts to have hit the working poor. First up was the reduction in childcare support. Then working tax credits were frozen while inflation soared to 5%. Support for those working part-time was next in line. Cuts to council tax benefit – oddly excluded from universal credit – followed. And let's not forget that this autumn's hit to the working poor comes on top of last year's decision to uprate tax credits by only 1%. It's a cut on top of a cut.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Jan 7, 2014 22:35:34 GMT
Government's flagship benefits scheme faces more delays after rift
Documents reveal friction between Department for Work and Pensions and Cabinet Office as IT problems mount
By Shiv Malik Tuesday 7th January 2014
Tensions between the DWP, for which Iain Duncan Smith (left) has responsibility, and the Cabinet Office, overseen by Francis Maude (right), are causing 'high level' risks to the scheme, according to the document. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Rex/Reuters
The government's flagship programme to shake up the benefits system is facing fresh problems in a battle between two departments at the heart of the scheme, documents leaked to the Guardian show.
Friction between Iain Duncan Smith's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Cabinet Office overseen by Francis Maude is now causing "high-level" risks to the delivery of the project, according to minutes of a Whitehall meeting.
Maude's department, minutes of the government's "universal credit board" confirm, has also accelerated the pullout of its elite team of IT experts from the project after what sources describe as serious tensions over the way the £2.4bn overhaul is heading.
The DWP is now urgently searching for new IT specialists to keep the complex software project on track. As a result, future implementation of universal credit could now face delays and increased costs because of the rapid pullout, senior civil servants were told, according to the minutes.
One project insider, who did not want to be named, said the inter-departmental conflict has brought a "significant risk of delay" to getting the final universal credit design off the ground. "You are losing ... people who are in on the ground floor, certainly immersed in universal credit policy and design plans. Now they are going to have to bring people up to speed and probably have to pay top dollar for them because they are going to have to be cutting-edge digital experts."
Universal credit, an idea championed and pursued by Duncan Smith, seeks to roll six benefits into a single streamlined payment. But it has been dogged by design errors,multimillion pound write-offs andnumerous setbacks. The project has also become more central to government plans to reduce the deficit after the chancellor, George Osborne, warned this week that a further £25bn of spending cuts would be needed after the next election. As much as £12bn could be taken from the welfare budget, he said.
Despite a scathing NAO report in September Duncan Smith had been insistent that the project remained on time and on budget. In December he revealed a new plan for delivering the project.
Sources indicate that tensions between government departments spiked after Duncan Smith refused to restart the embattled project afresh – a move that would have incurred massive write-off costs and political embarrassment.
Duncan Smith is understood to have insisted on a "twin track" approach– keeping current universal credit development going to prove claimants could use the service before the 2015 election – while ordering money and time to be ploughed into a web-based system that did not rely heavily on jobcentre staff to fill in claimant benefit details.
According to the newly approved plans, hundreds of thousands of benefit claimants will then be transferred from one design of universal credit programme to the other once the digital design is ready sometime after the general election.
Maude and his government digital service (GDS) experts team objected to the twin-track approach. However, he was outflanked by "a majority" of other government ministers and project advisers, the leaked minutes say.
A separately leaked, highly restricted risk-assessment document makes clear that the rapid withdrawal of Cabinet Office experts is now one of the most serious problems facing the project this year because the DWP might not be "able to obtain the skills required to replace GDS within the current market at affordable cost". According to the leaked minutes, the former Olympics executive Howard Shiplee, who is now in charge of the troubled programme, described the accelerated GDS withdrawal as "disappointing" during the meeting held on 27 November.
Shiplee's next in command, Ann Harris, also disclosed during the meeting that due to the multitude of problematic issues facing universal credit, the project was coded "red" overall.
The leaked board minutes state: "GDS wished to accelerate their withdrawal from the design and build team to allow DWP to take ownership.
"However, as GDS have supplied most of the expertise and resource to date, a recruitment exercise needs to be undertaken to fill the technical vacancies, there is therefore the likelihood of some delay.
"As senior reporting officer, Harold Shiplee felt that it was disappointing that this situation had occurred and felt we needed to look at how the impact could be minimised."
During the meeting one other senior civil remarked that "friction between DWP and Cabinet Office" made things more "difficult than necessary".
A source close to Duncan Smith denied that any division existed between departments.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said, "Iain Duncan Smith's repeated promises to deliver universal credit 'on time and on budget' have been broken, with an astonishing £40m written off so far, £91m written down and only a handful expected to claim universal credit by 2015.
Never mind the speech, never mind the £25 billion – the key moment of George Osborne’s big day yesterday came during his interview on the Today Programme. I mentioned it in my post yesterday, but it’s worth giving further consideration to. It was the way he summarily dispatched the idea of withdrawing benefits from wealthier pensioners with the claim that doing so would only save “tens of millions” of pounds.
I said at the time that “cuts to universal benefits could save more than the Chancellor suggests”. And then the FT’s Jim Pickard put a number on it: £4 billion. That’s how much the Government could save if it decided to scrap benefits such as free TV licences and the Winter Fuel Allowance altogether. Even just removing them from wealthier pensioners would save hundreds of millions. That’s somewhat more than the “tens of millions” claimed by the Chancellor. It’s also comparable to some of the policies Osborne has already introduced, or is keen to introduce, such as cuts to the spare room subsidy (or whatever you want to call it) and cuts to housing benefit for those earning over £60,000 a year.
So why’s he scoffing at this idea and not the others? Politics, of course. Not only does the Chancellor know that pensioners – particularly well-off pensioners – are a traditional source of Conservative votes, but he also has David Cameron’s pre-election pledges to consider. As Prime Minister, he might have just abandoned his promise not to cut pensioner OAPerks, but he’s not like that. As Benedict Brogan says in his Daily Telegraph column today, “In the mind of David Cameron, broken promises carry a particular toxicity.”
But, as I’ve argued plenty of times before (for example, here andhere), the politics aren’t just in favour of keeping pensioner benefits untouched. In fact, Osborne is encoding a particularly dangerous inconsistency into the Tories’ message. On the one hand, child benefit payments to wealthier families are “difficult to justify” during a time a spending retrenchment. On the other, money for old millionaires! And, all the while, the Tory leadership insists that we’re all in this together.
And what of the internal Government politics? This morning’s newspapers tell us that both Iain Duncan Smith and Nick Clegg are raging against Osborne’s announcement of another £12 billion of welfare cuts after 2015. Yet here’s the thing: these two ministers could have been pacified, even if only slightly, by the prospect of pensioner perks getting the chop – as it’s a policy they both support. This isn’t just important for the happiness of the current Coalition, but also for the possibility of any future coalitions. What Osborne intends to do after the next election is already a sore point between Tories and Lib Dems. The Chancellor is merely, currently, prodding at that wound. He could come to regret this in the event of another Hung Parliament.
There’s another problem, aside from the political ones, that Osborne is creating for after 2015: just where are all these £billions going to come from? Finding an extra £12 billion of welfare cuts is going to be, in the words of the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ Paul Johnson, “tough”. Cutting housing benefit for the under-25s might make the Exchequer a £billion or two; restrictions on housing benefit for those earning over £60,000, a little bit more – but what else is there? The Chancellor is restricting his range of answers to that question by leaving out the elderly. Pensions, a massive and increasing portion of government spending, are being protected. And pensioner perks are wrongly dismissed as too small to bother with.
And it doesn’t stop there: health spending, as we all know, is also being shielded from cuts because of – oh yes – politics and another promise that Cameron made before the last election. Here at ConHome, we’velong argued for a proper, nothing-off-the-table audit of state spending and where it might be cut. The Office for Budget Responsibility has done its part by highlighting the fiscal dangers of an ageing population. But the Tory leadership is, as it likes to remind us, sticking to its plan. They want to cut, cut, cut – but they simply don’t want to consider every idea for cut-cut-cutting.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Jan 19, 2014 16:29:40 GMT
Universal Credit: How will DWP cope with mass migration?
"There is no debacle on Universal Credit," insisted Iain Duncan Smith to MPs on the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee.
Despite the secretary of state’s robust defence of his flagship welfare reform policy last month, evidence to the contrary continues to mount.
Duncan Smith announced in December a new “twin-track” approach to resolve the IT problems that have so far led to £40m of IT work being scrapped and another £90m to be written off by the time Universal Credit goes fully live in 2017/18.
Under the new plan, work continues on the widely criticised IT system developed to support the Pathfinder pilot projects for the new benefits scheme, while an entirely separate development takes place to produce a new “end-state” system – which will be the software that supports the full nationwide roll-out.
Barely a month after its announcement, the extent of the risks that remain in this revised plan are becoming clearer.
The most immediate risk faced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is the lack of readily available skills in digital and agile development.
The Pathfinder system was developed using the old principles that have led to so many government IT disasters – bring in a few big IT suppliers, give them a big outsourcing contract, and hope they know what they are doing.
The success of that approach can be demonstrated by the fact that those four suppliers – HP, Accenture, IBM and BT – will play little or no part in developing the “end-state” system that will support the nationwide roll-out.
That new system will be developed mostly using in-house resources – but those resources do not exist at this time.
That task has been made all the more urgent by the withdrawal of the Government Digital Service (GDS) – the Cabinet Office’s central pool of digital skills – from Universal Credit (UC). As minister Francis Maude said, it was always the intention that GDS would step back and DWP would complete the development for Universal Credit.
But disagreements over the approach taken – sources say GDS wanted to scrap the Pathfinder IT and start again – led to GDS pulling out sooner than expected. And that has left a hole that urgently needs to be filled.
Computer Weekly learned from reliable sources last week that Cunnington is already struggling to find suitable skills on the recruitment market, raising concerns about the first major milestone for the end-state system, which is due to be tested with 100 benefit claimants from May.
Recruitment experts say this is no surprise. The demand for developers with agile and digital skills far outstrips supply, according to Harry Gooding, head of client engagement at recruitment consultancy Mortimer Spinks.
“There are, simply, more jobs available in digital and software development than people to do them,” he said.
DWP has to compete against retailers, banks, internet companies and tech startups to attract skilled developers, offering only a public sector wage to potential staff used to hopping from one project to another, with little need to reap the long-term benefits of a well-pensioned civil service career.
Already, sources suggest that Cunnington will be forced to bring in external suppliers to fill the DWP skills gap – at least in the short term.
The twin-track approach being adopted is unlikely to be one that experienced software project managers would choose. DWP has decided to pursue two separate projects, with two separate teams, using different methodologies, and then hope that it can combine one with the other further down the track.
“To extend the current IT solution we will be using a standard waterfall delivery approach, largely using existing suppliers and commercial frameworks... The end-state digital solution will be delivered using an agile, and therefore iterative, approach,” said the draft business case for Universal Credit.
The idea is that much of the functionality in the current system, used for the Pathfinder trials, will be re-used as part of the end-state system. Agile experts have doubts about the credibility of such an approach – which “seems to be based on hope rather than logic”, according to Gus Power, chief technology officer of EnergizedWork, a specialist software development firm with extensive experience in agile and digital systems.
“The twin-track approach has at its core the myth of software reuse – that it's free, or at least cheap and cost-effective. This is rarely true, especially in large-scale systems,” said Power.
“Given that the pilot project was started at a different time with different requirements, it is highly likely that the components in that project will prove to be unfit for purpose in the context of the new system,” he said.
“This will result in either additional integration overhead to work around these incompatibilities or further changes being made to the pilot system. Either course of action will most probably result in delay, sub-optimal design and/or the addition of unnecessary delivery constraints.”
This twin-track approach already means that £90m worth of IT work on the Pathfinder system will be thrown away once the end-state system is completed. There must still be a genuine risk that far more may yet prove to be unusable – or at the very least, present a highly complex software integration challenge at a very late stage of the programme.
The DWP estimates that during the 14 months leading up to the Universal Credit deadline of the end of 2017, more than 200,000 people will be migrated from the current (non-Universal Credit) benefits system to Universal Credit every month.
That figure came from DWP insiders, but was validated by estimates from the independent Office of Budgetary Responsibility to accompany chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement last month.
That mass migration is entirely back-ended on the project, and its scale is such that it can only represent an enormous risk to the 2017 deadline. Sources say DWP staff "audibly gasped" when they heard the figure of 212,000 average monthly migrations first mentioned at an internal meeting in October.
As the problems at Universal Credit have come to light, the DWP has shifted back interim milestones and missed early promises for the number of claimants that would be on the new benefits system by now. But the department has always insisted that the final deadline of the end of 2017 for national roll-out would still be achieved.
“Our current plans will see all new benefit claimants claiming Universal Credit by 2016, with most existing benefit claimants moving on to Universal Credit during 2016 and 2017,” DWP said in a recent statement.
Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Feb 22, 2014 23:19:56 GMT
Can it get any worse?
Universal Credit: Government's welfare reform ‘may be scrapped after next election’
IT glitches and low numbers threaten £2bn project
By Nigel Morris 19th February 2014
The future of the Government’s major £2bn welfare reform was thrown into fresh doubt on Wednesday night after it emerged that just a handful of claimants have been enrolled into the new system.
The Department for Work and Pensions disclosed that only 3,200 people had been signed up to receive Universal Credit – a fraction of the original target – at a cost of nearly £200,000 per person.
The figure emerged amid claims the next government could be forced to pull the plug on Universal Credit, which has already been seriously delayed following IT problems.
The new credit, which combines six working-age benefits and credits into a single payment, has been championed by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, as a way of ensuring the unemployed always have an incentive to find a job.
Under his original timetable, 1 million people would be receiving the payment by April, rising to 1.7 million a year later.
But the DWP admitted that only 3,200 had been enrolled for Universal Credit by the end of November, nearly all of them as part of a pilot scheme in four job centres in the North-West of England. The vast majority are young single jobseekers, the least complicated category of claimant.
As the Government has spent £612m getting the scheme off the ground, the spending so far equates to £191,250 per head. Government sources insisted David Cameron and senior ministers remained committed to Universal Credit. Labour also said it supported its principle, but believed the Coalition’s roll-out was seriously flawed.
However, Whitehall officials were yesterday reported to fear the whole project could be scrapped after the general election, whichever party is victorious in May 2015. According to the Financial Times, officials believe it “must start delivering results by the next election or risk being drastically scaled back or even abandoned”.
Mr Duncan Smith has faced criticism for spending money on an existing computer programme to support the pilot projects at the same time as developing a digital system sophisticated enough to allow Universal Credit to be rolled out nationally.
The latter will be tested in 100 households in November; if it is judged unable to cope with the pressure of handling up to 12 million claims, the welfare reform could be in jeopardy.