Is £492m cheap for Universal Credit agile project spend?

By T0ny Collins

Labour MP Frank Field asked what recent estimate has been made of the cost of the IT system for universal credit in each sub-category of expenditure.

Mark Hoban, who became a minister at the Department for Work and Pensions this month, replied on 18 September 2012 that IT investment costs over SR10 are estimated at £638m and include IT development, associated integration with other systems and infrastructure requirements.

The spend on design, development and software – at current estimates – is £492m. That sounds like a worthwhile investment from the point of view of at least one of the DWP’s main Universal Credit IT suppliers Accenture. Is it cheap, though, for a complex agile project?

Some have asked it before – indeed on this blog – and we ask again: To what extent is Universal Credit a genuinely agile project?

And with many hundreds of millions of pounds at stake, shouldn’t Parliament and taxpayers be allowed to view independent progress reports on the state of the project? No says the DWP.

Private Eye has picked up on the DWP’s rejection of our FOI request. [Thank you to Dave Orr for spotting the article]. This is from Private Eye’s latest issue:

“Nearly two years ago Eye 1276 reported with concern how the then chief executive of HM Revenue and Customs had told a committee of MPs that, when it came to delivering universal credits, the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had a ‘big hard dependency’ on HMRC’s IT systems.

“Now critics from all sides are wondering whether Whitehall’s imperfect IT systems can be linked up… Labour’s Liam Byrne has claimed the scheme is ‘late and over budget’. Duncan Smith flatly denies this, but his department has refused freedom of information requests from IT campaigner Tony Collins for progress reports. Releasing them would ‘cause inappropriate concern’ apparently. Hardly reassuring.

“PS: Byrne’s credibility as scrutineer of IT is not helped by having been the health minister who in 2006 insisted that the NHS’s National Programme for IT was ‘broadly on track’ when it couldn’t have been further off track…”

Universal Credit IT – current cost estimates:

Design and development £441m
Software  £51m
Changes to dependent systems  £14m
Infrastructure   £52m
Other   £80m

One response to “Is £492m cheap for Universal Credit agile project spend?

  1. Let’s get real about this. First what are we trying to achieve – a person or a family apply for financial help and their circumstances are assessed. Information needs to be collated direct and from existing systems including local authorities. A set of “rules” are applied taking account of all relevant information and out pops a number. It is a dynamic situation where any system needs to recognise both the recipients changing circumstances and the high probability that future governments will want to do things differently!
    Using advanced and “the foundation of the future software” being described as “Definitional Object Model Development” (DOMD) where core code does not need to change and no code generation or compiling would deliver on the design and development and software as described at a fraction of the current estimates £492m! As for “agile” it just treats the symptom unlike “DOMD” which is the cure to clunky coding inflexible software for business that current vendors just love! This is my contributions on the Solutions Exchange; maybe some day someone will wake up in HMG and see the future – I live in hope ……


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