Labour to drive stake into heart of DWP’s failing monster projects if it wins election?
Labour planning to impale DWP’s Universal Credit and PIPs changes?
With each new revelation in the Universal Credit project saga the Labour party has been shifting itself away from support for the project.
This morning Rachel Reeves MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) finally came clean and told the Sunday Times:
“If we win the next election we will pause the build of the system for three months, calling in the National Audit Office to do a warts-and-all report on it.”
A couple of months ago I heard that DWP’s IT boss, Andy Nelson, had resigned after just one year on the job. This was just in advance of the Public Accounts Committee hearing on the botched introduction of the PIP scheme, which was to replace Disability Living Allowances later this year.
The silence from the opposition front benches on the failing implementation of the Universal Credit and PIPs projects has, until today, been deafening. But Labour’s plans are still rather muddy…
Has Reeves misunderstood the role of the National Audit Office?
NAO reports to parliament and is fiercely independent of government. Would it be willing to drive a stake into the heart of the Universal Credit and PIPs projects?
In last week’s birthday honours its boss became Sir Amyas Morse. In the past he has made it clear that:
“We are not civil servants and do not report to any Minister. We cannot act as adviser on the specific decisions the Government takes.”
Indeed, the NAO decides on its own agenda and timescales for investigations in consultation with MPs on the Public Accounts Committee, which is chaired by a member of the other party.
NAO Value for Money audits take 3 months to plan and 6 months to conduct and publish – so much for Reeves’s pipe-dream of a quick decision based on independent advice…
In short: the NAO will not deliver the short, sharp advice needed to Rachel Reeves if Labour win the next General election, and it certainly will not advise the Government on what it should do with the Universal Credit scheme.
Reeves also repeated the statement later today on the BBC Sunday Politics TV show. In that interview it seems that Reeves was a bit unsure as to the role of the NAO – she said:
“The Government, in the most recent National Audit Office Major Projects Authority report, has said that this is now a brand new project – a reset project.”
Now, it is important to realise that the Major Projects Authority is part of the Government and reports to Francis Maude. The National Audit Office is NOT part of the Government – it reports to the opposition Chair in the Parliamentary Accounts Committee. The MPA and NAO are in no way connected. So some clarification is required on this…
What should be done with the Universal Credit project?
If it finds itself in power, will the Labour party adopt the agile approach I have been advocating to incrementally modernise the social security framework in this country?
Let’s look at the timeline for clues as to their thinking:
July 2013: I notice that DWP’s annual accounts not published on time. I suspect large write-offs. I break the news on Twitter and this blog.
August 2013: Labour announces set-up of a Universal Credit ‘Rescue Committee’ to be led by Kieran Quinn, Labour Leader of Tameside Council. In a “Tory-lite” speech the then shadow minister, Liam Byrne, fails to focus on ministerial policy failings, but merely promises to manage the project better in future.
September 2013: Rachel Reeve’s speech at the September 2013 Labour Party conference (in her then post as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury) quite a tub-thumper. She did not mention any support for continuation of Universal Credit project.
October 2013: Byrne demoted to Education, and Rachel Reeves takes his place at Work and Pensions after the National Audit Office publish a damning report on Universal Credit. I reveal on BBC TV News 24 that the initial estimate of £34m written-off is an underestimate
November 2013: My investigations conclude that the Labour’s proposed ‘Rescue Committee’ has sunk without trace.
December 2013: Rachel Reeves half-heartedly makes a final call for ‘cross party talks’ to save Universal Credit. Iain Duncan Smith is roasted by the Work and Pensions Select Committee. I explain on Sky News how DWP statistics show that payday loans could leap nine-fold due to Universal Credit.
January 2014: Labourstartsto personalise Universal Credit as “David Cameron’s flagship welfare reform”, and for the first time distances itself from support of the policy. Rachel Reeves makes a major 4,571 word speech on welfare reform in which she does not mention Universal Credit.
February 2014: Rachel Reevesnow announces that “We are moving in the direction of restoring … contributory element in our social security system” making extensive references to existing benefits and none to Universal Credit. Teresa Pearce MP (a member of the cross-party work and pensions committee) told IB Times that Duncan Smith persistently refused to listen to the MPs’ suggestions on how to salvage Universal credit, and accused him of being extraordinarily rude and dismissive.
March 2014: DWP’s IT boss, Andy Nelson resigned after just one year on the job in advance of a Public Accounts Committee hearing.
Today (22 June 22): Rachel Reeves appears on BBC One’s Sunday Politics programme and announces that although she supports the policy, she believes that:
“Universal Credit is massively over budget, and it is not going to be delivered according to the government timetable. If we win the next election we will pause… the build of the system for three months, calling in the National Audit Office to do a warts-and-all report on it.”
WillLabour promise to drive the stake into the heart of the Universal Credit project? If so, will the Agile approach I have been advocating to incrementally modernise the social security framework in this country be adopted?
Notes and References:
19/2/14, Rachel Reeves’s Website
“Millions have been wasted on David Cameron’s flagship welfare reform Universal Credit, with £225,000 spent for every person receiving it at the end of last year.” Rachel Reeves
17/2/14, Rachel Reeves, quoted in The Guardian
“If David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith can’t ensure UC claimants are included on official unemployment figures, how can we have any confidence in their ability to deliver this flagship project?
20/1/14, Rachel Reeves quoted in The Guardian
“We are moving in the direction of restoring … contributory element in our social security system.”
20/1/14, Rachel Reeves, speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research
4,571 word speech – no mention of UC or PIPs
“by making sure that work always pays, with measures to strengthen the minimum wage”
8/1/14, Rachel Reeves’s Website
Rachel Reeves “completely unacceptable that millions have been wasted because of failures by David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith to get a grip of their flagship Universal Credit scheme.”
9/12/13, Rachel Reeves widely quoted as stating that:
“the (UC) scheme was in chaos and urged Mr Duncan Smith to hold cross-party talks to rescue it.”
9/12/13 IDS testifies to the W&P Select Committee
12/10/13, Rachel Reeves’s Website
“The roll-out of Universal Credit is in disarray”
9/12/13 In committee, Iain Duncan Smith revealed that £303m had been spent on developing the Universal Credit IT, and that £40m will be written off now, with £91m to be written off over the next 3 years with temporary IT used only until 2017. That afternoon the late DWP accounts are finally published, six months late, and with an extraordinary two page note from the Auditor General about the Universal Credit project. The note was strange in that it read like a classic accountant’s ‘Emphasis of Matter’ warning, but was not entitled as such…
7/11/13, Rachel Reeves, The Guardian
“Labour is supportive of the principle of Universal Credit – but what we have seen so far is an ongoing waste of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on top of delays creating huge uncertainties for families. “
14/10/13 Rachel Reeves appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
21/8/13 Liam Byrne Tory-lite speech “Fiscal Discipline in Social Security: DWP under Labour in 2015 “ quoted on Spectator blog: – 9 mentions of UC
“Universal Credit is a good idea in principle but the implementation is a disaster. We all want this project to succeed, so today I am writing to the DWP to ask that cross-party talks begin with civil servants so that we can see exactly how bad things are and what’s needed to fix them. If Iain Duncan Smith won’t save Universal Credit, then Labour will have to prepare to clean up his mess. “.
23/9/13 Liam Byrne to Labour Party Conference “our task is different. It’s to ‘maximise potential of earnings … That why we need Universal Credit to work. So if the government won’t act to save it, we will. The Tories’ system may prove dead on arrival. So we need a better way. So, today we announce our Universal Credit Rescue Committee.” And I’m grateful to Kieran Quinn, leader of Tameside, the first pathfinder, for his offer to drive our work.
11/5/2010 Byrne was Chief secretary to the Treasury under last government. He left a note to his successor saying “Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck! Liam.” This letter much references by new government to justify cutbacks.
9/2013 Rachel Reeve’s speech at the September 2014 Labour Party conference (in her then post as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury) was a tub-thumper. No mention of Universal Credit though.
6/2013 Rachel Reeves appears on BBC TV’s Sunday Politics show.