Universal Credit – £303m computer system to be scrapped? Minister to explain to Parliamentary committee on TV on Monday 4:30pm when DWP finally publishes its financial accounts…
Iain Duncan Smith, as Minister of State for Work and Pensions has been summoned to testify to the Parliamentary Work and Pensions committee (Chair: Anne Begg MP) at 4:30pm on Monday. (Update: Click here for the subsequent blog). The last week has seen a furious flurry of press releases to soften up the bad news he is expected to deliver at that hearing. In true DWP style, these press releases have either been released late on a Friday afternoon after most real journalists have left their desks for the weekend, or slipped out whilst the Chancellor gave the Autumn statement today. An example is today’s Ministerial Statment on Universal Credit that seems to presage the admission that the £300m spent on IT development by DWP up to now could be junked (at least partially). In today’s statement the Minister of State said:
“As part of the wider transformation in the development of digital services, the Department will further develop the work started by the Government Digital Services (part of Cabinet Office) to test and implement an enhanced online digital service. This will be capable of delivering the full scope of Universal Credit and make provision for all claimant types.”
This means that the existing Pathfinder system will form the basis of the further expansion of Universal Credit, with no plans to use the £303m system built by Accenture and IBM.
A source tells me that DWP’s accounts (that I pointed out in September they were overdue) will be published on Monday. These will state how much of the £303m will be written off. If there is a letter of Ministerial Direction from IDS taking responsibility for the rushed timescales then DWP will have to publish the letter at the same time. It is more likely that the Permanent Secretary (Robert Devereux) considered asking for a Ministerial Direction, but backed off, leaving himself fully responsible for any waste of public money on the project.
DWP also published a press release and a memo last week explaining the rollout of the Pathfinder area to 3 more Job Centres from the existing 10. This is a step in the right direction, but there is much left to do with 730 Job Centres still to go, and a target of 17m claimants on Universal Credit by 2017.
On a more positive note, DWP have announced that the current Pathfinder IT system which is in place will be incrementally developed in a more ‘Agile’ fashion rather than continue with the £425m ‘big-bang’ IT system project that has yet failed to deliver any functions at all.
On a separate news interview, the Secretary of State said that 700,000 complex cases will not be on Universal Credit by the target 2017 date. 4% of the target being missed is not exactly a catastrophe, but perhaps the start of a climbdown from the previous statements that the timescale is still on track?
Update 6/12/2013 12:51 I notice that the DWP Permanent Secretary, Robert Devereaux, is testifying in another room on the related subject of “Using Payments By Results to help troubled families” to the Public Accounts Committee (Chair: Margaret Hodge MP) at around the same time! Monday will be busy day for DWP pundits…
Update 9/12/2013 14:19 Last Friday DWP also released a much clearer document describing the state of the Pathfinder IT called the ‘Claimant Journey’. It clearly illustrates that the current Pathfinder Universal Credit IT does not support any processes past the initial claim application. More detail here.
Lots of exciting Universal Credit action in the news predicted for Monday!
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