BBC Radio – September 5th – UK National Broadcast – The NAO verdict on Universal Credit Programme – interview with Brian Wernham FAPM
‘Drivetime’ BBC Radio 5 Live September 5, 2013 – 4:25pm – News Story
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Interview transcript below.
BBC Presenter (Anna Foster): The Government has insisted that its flagship welfare policy Universal project will be delivered on time and budget despite more that £30m being written off after computer failures. The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, told the Commons that he had addressed the problem after the National Audit Office (NAO) said that the scheme had been badly managed. Brian Wernham is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management (FAPM). Good afternoon.
Interviewee: Brian Wernham (FAPM): Good afternoon.
Anna Foster: Looking at this do you think that it has been badly managed?
Brian Wernham: The objectives were not clearly set out at the beginning. Firstly, the NAO said that the Target Operating Model – that is how the Universal Credit is going to work – wasn’t clear enough. Secondly, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided to go for a large project doing everything all in one go. So: taking 6 existing benefits – Child Benefits, Tax Credits, Job Seekers Allowance and so forth – and collapsing them all down into a single Universal Credit – you would get almost like a bank statement each month telling you all of your benefits on one sheet of paper. And they planned to build all of the computer systems over a period of 3 years, and test them right at the very last moment and putting them all live in one ‘Big Bang’ to go live in October of this year – and here we are just one month before go-live. And it is obviously not going to go live as originally planned.
Anna Foster: I suppose you could look at this in two ways, couldn’t you? You could say that it is either ground-breaking, in that they are trying to do it quick and impressive way. Or: the flip side is that they are trying to cut corners…
Brian Wernham: Well, over the last few years there have been lots of Government IT and digital services which have been very successful. For example, at DVLA – I don’t know if you have a car – but when you need a new tax disc that is now a very slick operation online isn’t it? You put in your credit card details, they check that you are insured, you are the registered owner. And then a day or two later the tax disc pops through the door and it’s all done without even walking down to the Post Office. So some parts of Central Government have become very “Agile” indeed. The Government Digital Service (GDS), which is part of the Cabinet Office, they’ve put this new web site live: “.gov.uk” which is a much slicker and more straightforward way to use the Web for Government Services and they have done that also in an incremental way, bit by bit rather than trying to do everything all at once, building up a huge project which costs hundreds of millions of pounds and not delivering until several years have gone past.
Anna Foster: There is that financial write-off as well. £31m at the moment – could that rise?
Brian Wernham: I think that it is £34m – but that’s really the tip of the iceberg. What I noticed a few weeks ago was that the DWP haven’t yet issued their accounts for this year. And it was revealed today in the NAO report that the accounts will not be signed off until an assessment is made on the Universal Credit IT and whether the £425m spent up to April this year was wisely spent should be counted as an investment, or whether actually part of it or a lot of it may have to be written off.
Anna Foster: Thank you Brian Wernham who is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management.