Headlines: November 7th, 2013

The Public Accounts Committee has joined the chorus of criticism of the universal credit programme with charges of failures in governance, planning, project management and financial control. The Committee’s report provides supplementary detail to the NAO findings published in September 2013.

Universal Credit will roll up six benefits into what is claimed to be a simpler system which encourages work.

The report is critical of the governance of the programme. It describes the failure of the Department for Work and Pensions to grasp the nature and enormity of the task and failure to monitor and challenge progress regularly.

This view echoes the NAO report which found that an important factor was the adoption of a systems development approach new to the Department.

The Committee’s examination of witnesses also exposed flaws in financial management. The MPs said: “We saw evidence that purchase orders with a total value of £8.7m were approved by a personal assistant to the Programme Director.

“In another case, two purchase orders, one for £22.6m and one for £1.1m, were approved by a personal assistant to the Programme Director whose delegated financial authority at the time of approvals was only £10m.

“When the Department made individual payments to suppliers these could not be linked to particular pieces of work that had been delivered.”

New information emerged from the report about the likely cost write off. Previously the figure was put at £34m. It is now expected that some £140m worth of IT assets, will have to be written off.

An internal review by the programme director has recently been concluded and according to the Guardian it presents ministers with the options of fixing the current system or creating a completely new web-based system. The department favours the former and the Cabinet Office the latter. The development of a web-based system would probably result in a write off of most of the “£425m spent on the programme so far.

It is understood that the internal review report has not been provided to the Public Accounts Committee.