By Tony Collins
The Department for Work and Pensions has found two reports on Universal Credit reports it commissioned from IBM and McKinsey and did not know existed.
One of the reports was a Universal Credit “end to end technical review” carried out by IBM at a cost of £49,240. Another was a review of the Universal Credit “delivery model assessment phases one and two” carried by McKinsey and Partners at a cost of £350,000. The assessments were in the first half of 2011.
In March, under the FOI Act, Campaign4Change asked the DWP for a copy of the reports and the Department couldn’t find them.
On 19 July 2012, Julie Kitchin, Senior Business Partner, Operations at the Financial Control Directorate, Risk Management Division, DWP Quarry House, Leeds, said in a letter:
“You asked for a copy of the Universal Credit Delivery Model Assessment Phase 1 and 2, and the Universal Credit End to End Technical Review.
“To ascertain whether the Department holds these documents I requested a thorough search of the Universal Credit Programme document library.
“Universal Credit Colleagues have confirmed that the Department does not hold documents with these titles or under these names…”
I replied that a mistake appeared to have been made. “The reports I asked for are referred to in this Parliamentary reply, which gives the cost of the reports and the consultants whom the DWP commissioned to produce them. How can the DWP now say they have no record of the reports?” I gave a link to the Parliamentary reply.
Kitchin said she would seek clarification. Now Martin Dillon of the DWP’s Central FOI Team, says his Department has found the reports. Says Dillon in a letter,
“It has taken time to locate the documents as they are sensitive in nature and held securely and separately from the normal programme library of information – accessible only through a secure authority.
“I can however now confirm that the relevant records have been located and retrieved.”
So will the DWP now release the Universal Credit reports?
Not a chance. The DWP does not publish any consultancy reports, especially external assessments of Universal Credit. Indeed it appears to be so innately, instinctively and culturally secretive that it hides from its own staff independent assessments of its projects.
Could it be that the DWP is in part PR-driven, to the extent that it commissions tens of millions of pounds worth of external reviews of projects, which ministers and officials can quote from selectively in case a project such as Universal Credit is criticised in Parliament, but which remain hidden so that anything negative is always kept from public and Parliamentary scrutiny?
In defence of the DH’s decision to pay generous sums to BT for Rio and Cerner deployments under the NPfIT, the department quoted selectively from a series of consultancy reports which it refused to publish.
Officially the DWP has not made up its mind on whether to publish the Universal credit reports. In private its officials know there is no way it will publish them.
This is the official DWP response to Campaign4Change on the reports requested under FOI:
“It is occasionally necessary to extend the time limit for issuing a response. In the case of your request, we need to extend the time limit because the information requested must be considered under one of the exemptions to which the public interest test applies.
“This extra time is needed in order to make a determination as to the public interest. Accordingly, we hope to let you have a response by 13 September.”
Universal Credit is one of the government’s biggest IT-related projects. Ministers say that all is going well. But what if the plans are to go live with a tiny proportion of claimants in October next year, with most of the remainder to follow after the next general election, if at all? Is that a PR success or a postponed disaster? It’s certainly a good reason to keep independent assessments of the project secret.
“If people don’t know what you’re doing, they don’t know what you’re doing wrong.” – Yes Minister.