The radical reform programme, which will roll major benefits into a single payment, is facing a major cultural challenge as it also evolves a complex IT system.
In an article in the Daily Telegraph, Howard Shiplee, a former Olympics executive who was drafted in to direct the scheme, said he is focusing on ensuring that the “cultural elements” of the welfare reform programme are introduced while an “enhanced” IT system is being developed.
In the article he acknowledged that there had been poor project management in the past, a lack of transparency where the focus was too much on what was going well and not enough on what wasn’t. In addition suppliers had not been managed as they should have been. He believes these difficulties have been resolved.
Mr Shiplee said: “Too many people think Universal Credit is just about IT, that’s a big mistake. This is about changing the way we do business – and changing people’s behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to be in work. So while the enhanced IT option which will deliver this change — is being finalised, we will press ahead with rolling out the cultural elements of Universal Credit to support this transformation.”
He added: “We can’t underestimate the scale of the challenge.
“This is a fundamental transformation of the welfare system. It involves rebuilding and merging programmes currently run out of the Department for Work and Pensions, HMRC and local authorities across the country.
“It means changing the working practices of these organisations and the thousands of staff working at Jobcentre Plus. It means a complete reordering of how benefit claimants experience the welfare state.”
The original project plan provided for the system to be extended to all new claimants from next month, but the extension has now been restricted to six areas.
It is expected that the National Audit Office will publish a report shortly, criticising management of the project.