Headlines: March 12th, 2013

A further change in leadership of the Universal Credit Programme, which will bring radical change to the UK benefits system, contradicts assurances that delivery is on course and staff changes result from moving from system design to implementation. The Programme is due to go live in April 2013 on a very limited scale.

Hilary Reynolds, Universal Credit Programme Director, has been moved out of the post and will not be replaced. She held the post for less than four months. This is the latest in a series of leadership changes. Hilary Reynolds replaced Malcolm Whitehouse in November 2012. Also in November 2012, the role of Steve Dover as corporate director responsible for the detailed design and delivery of all business & IT products for the Universal Credit Programme was axed.

In December 2012, Philip Langsdale, the Department for Work and Pensions CIO, passed away. He was replaced in February 2013 by Andy Nelson who also holds the posts of the Government CIO, on a two days a week basis, as well as CIO of the Ministry of Justice.

In February 2013 David Pitchford, Head of Major Projects Authority, Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office was appointed as chief executive for Universal Credit.

In the short period Hilary Reynolds was in post she would have insufficient time to get to grips with the nuances of the Programme, but there was time to become emotionally attached to many features, particularly where changes were made. The new chief executive, David Pitchford, had a wider background than the Programme Director and may have held different views on the way forward. He has operated at CEO level in large-scale organisations for over 25 years, both in Australia and internationally. Prior to joining Cabinet Office, he was the Chief Executive of Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, the world’s largest land reclamation project and before that, the Chief Executive of the City of Melbourne in Australia. Before that role, he was the Chief Operating Officer of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.

These leadership changes and changes in the definition of roles, combined with ‘bringing in new blood’ at this late stage of implementation is indicative of a leadership crisis, which is denied by ministers.

The DWP is introducing Universal Credit to simplify the benefits system, improve work incentives and reduce fraud and error. It will replace income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income Support; Child Tax Credits; Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.

The Universal Credit Programme is huge, involving up to 6 million households and 19 million people. It caries a much higher risk than the troubled systems in the health service which were seriously over time and over budget. The health service programmes relied on internal users who were trained and who built up skills. Universal Credit in contrast will provide a service to a floating population of the public. All transactions will be online.

Although the difficulties now are related to system issues, the greater risks are likely to be in the policy implementation and the user interface.