By Tony Collins
Universal Credit’s Programme Director, Hilary Reynolds, has stood down after only four months in post. The Department for Work and Pensions says she has been replaced by the interim head of Universal Credit David Pitchford.
Last month the DWP said Pitchford was temporarily leading Universal Credit following the death of Philip Langsdale at Christmas. In November 2012 the DWP confirmed that the then Programme Director for UC, Malcolm Whitehouse, was stepping down – to be replaced by Hilary Reynolds. Steve Dover, the DWP’s Corporate Director, Universal Credit Programme Business, has also been replaced.
A DWP spokesman said today (11 March 2013),
“David Pitchford’s role as Chief Executive for Universal Credit effectively combines the Senior Responsible Officer and Programme Director roles. As a result, Hilary Reynolds will now move onto other work.” She will no longer work on UC but will stay at the DWP, said the spokesman.
Raised in New Zealand, Reynolds is straight-talking. When she wrote to local authority chief executives in December 2012, introducing herself as the new Director for the Universal Credit Programme, her letter was free of the sort of jargon and vague management-speak that often characterises civil service communications. It is a pity she is standing down.
Some believe that Universal Credit will be launched in such a small way it could be managed manually. The bulk of the roll-out will be after the next general election, which means the plan would be subject to change. Each limited phase will have to prove itself before the next roll-out starts.
Reynolds’ letter to local authorities suggests that the roll-out of UC will, initially, be limited. She said in her letter,
“For the majority of local authorities, the impact of UC during the financial year 2013/14 will be limited. .. Initially, UC will replace new claims from single jobseekers of working age in certain defined postcode areas.
“From October 2013 we plan to extend the service to include jobseekers with children, couples and owner-occupiers, gradually expanding the service to locations across Great Britain and making it available to the full range of eligible working age claimants …by the end of 2017.”
Some IT work halted?
Accenture, Atos Origin, Oracle, Red Hat, CACI and IBM UK have all been asked to stop work on UC, according to shadow minister Liam Byrne MP, as reported on consultant Brian Wernham’s blog.
Wernham says that Minister Mark Hoban did not rebut Byrne’s statement but said that HP was committed to carrying on with the project. HP is responsible for deployment of a solution, not development, says Wernham’s agile government blog.
The DWP says that Pitchford has taken over from Reynolds – but separately the DWP had confirmed that Pitchford was leading UC temporarily and that Reynolds had a permanent job on the programme. Pitchford’s usual job is running the Major Projects Authority in the Cabinet Office.
All the changes at the DWP, and the reported halting of work by IT contractors, imply that the UC project is proving more involved, and moving more slowly, than initially thought. It’s also a reason for the DWP to continue to refuse FOI requests for internal reports that assess the project’s progress.
Perhaps the DWP doesn’t want people to know that the project is on track for such a limited roll-out in October that it could be managed, in the main, by hand. With the bulk of the roll-out planned for after the next general election Labour may be denied the use of UC as an effective electoral weapon against the Conservatives. In other words, the riskiest stage of UC is being put off until 2016/17.
Francis Maude, who is worried that UC will prove an IT and electoral disaster, has his own man, David Pitchford, leading the project, if only temporarily. Meanwhile UC project leaders from the DWP continue to last an extraordinarily short time. Reynolds had been UC programme director for only four months when she stood down. Pitchford is in a temporary role as the programme’s head, and Andy Nelson has recently become the DWP’s Chief Information Officer.
So much for UC’s continuity of leadership.
The truth about the project hasn’t been told. Isn’t it time someone told Iain Duncan Smith what’s really happening – Francis Maude perhaps?