By Tony Collins
Below are excerpts from the supposedly confidential “Starting Gate” report by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority on Universal Credit.
The main finding is that, despite inherent challenges, “the programme can deliver Universal Credit”.
Media reports on Universal Credit have depicted the scheme as an impending disaster that may blight the coalition in the run-up to the next general election, but the Authority’s report says the programme has got off to an impressively strong start.
This will encourage advocates of agile in government as Universal Credit is the Government’s biggest agile development.
We requested the Starting Gate report on Universal Credit under the Freedom of Information Act but the Department for Work and Pensions refused to release it; and turned down our appeal.
We obtained the report outside the FOI Act, via the House of Commons Library. It appears that one part of the DWP was trying to keep the report secret while another part had released it to two Parliamentary committees [the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Administration Select Committee].
It may be that the DWP, when it comes to FOI, doesn’t know clearly what it’s doing – or is all but indifferent to the FOI Act and chooses secrecy to keep things simple. The DWP’s FOI reply to us was, at best, in perfunctory compliance with the FOI Act. It made no attempt to set out the arguments for its decision not to disclose the report, other than to say disclosure was not in the public interest.
The Starting Gate report was dated March 2011 and was largely positive about the start of the Universal Credit . These were some of the findings.
“The review team finds that the Programme has got off to an impressively strong start given the demanding timetable and complexity of the design and interdependency with other departments.
“This involves liaison with HMRC in particular, but also with CLG and local government in respect of the replacement of Housing Benefit as part of the Universal Credit.
“We found that the foundations for a delivery Programme are in place – clear policy objectives, a coherent strategy, Ministerial and top management support, financial and human resources – with no obvious gaps.
“The strong working relationship with HMRC and the inclusive approach with other key stakeholders within and outside DWP have quickly established a high level of common understanding. All this gives a high degree of confidence that, notwithstanding the inherent challenges, the programme can deliver Universal Credit.
“There is a greater degree of uncertainty around the achievability of the intended economic outcomes because of factors which are not within DWP’s control e.g. the general state of the economy and availability of jobs.
“There are other risks which derive from trying new approaches: the Agile methodology offers much promise but it is unproven on this scale and scope. The actual response of different customer groups to UC may pose a risk to its transformational impact if, for example, factors other than net pay turned out to be a greater barrier to take up of work than expected.
“The development of a range of approaches to contingency planning (which could be beyond changes to UC) could cover off unintended customer behaviour, whether ‘no change’, or ‘change for the worse’.”
Campaign4Change will publish more excepts next week.