DWP untouched by MPs’ criticisms over Universal Credit IT project

By Tony Collins

Yesterday, while the national media was broadcasting and publishing criticisms of the Universal Credit project by the Public Accounts Committee, tweets by the press office at the Department for Work and Pensions were not exactly contrite.

Some DWP tweets amid the criticisms yesterday afternoon:

@dwppressoffice   The early #UniversalCredit roll-out is going well & we expect to announce more details of delivery plans shortly http://ow.ly/qAeOm 

@dwppressoffice   Head of #UniversalCredit says there is real potential to use much of the existing IT systems http://ow.ly/qAeYc 

@dwppressoffice   We do not recognise the PAC’s £140m write-off figure for #UniversalCredit & expect it to be substantially less http://ow.ly/qzE75 

@dwppressoffice   Today’s PAC report on #UniversalCredit doesn’t take into account our new leadership team or progress in delivery http://ow.ly/qzDvd 

In October the National Audit Office said in its report Universal Credit: early progress:

“Major Projects Authority and supplier-led reviews in mid-2012 identified a ‘fortress’ mentality within the programme team and a ‘good news’ reporting culture.”

The Public Accounts Committee said in its report yesterday:

“The Department only reported good news and denied the problems that had emerged.”

Comment

 The DWP’s tweets yesterday are not the fault of individual press officers who are, no doubt, accurately reflecting the views of senior officials that the Universal Credit IT project is going well, subject to some realignment which is to be expected on a complex and innovative programme.

This is one reason the DWP has had so many big IT-based project failures going back to the “Camelot” benefit computerisation scheme in the 1980s. The department’s perception of itself is that it is uniquely complex and misunderstood by those on the outside: the media, Parliament, the National Audit Office and, in more recent years, the Cabinet Office and the Major Projects Authority.

In some ways the DWP is like a soldier who emerges from a dense European forest in 1965 and is amazed to discover that the Second World War ended two decades before.

If the DWP’s press officers feel a need to keep up the pretence that all is well with the Universal Credit IT project, it probably means the pressure will be on the project director Howard Shiplee to keep up that pretence as well at least until, perhaps, he and Iain Duncan Smith disappear from the department after the general election in 2015.

Until the culture of denial and good news reporting at the DWP gives way to a culture of contrition, intense internal challenge, much greater openness, and an acceptance that some criticisms by Parliament and the National Audit Office may be justified – and an acceptance that the democratic process may be good for the department – Universal Credit seems doomed to follow the path of the last major benefits system change project in the 1990s: Operational Strategy, as it was called, took ten years (much longer than expected), went over budget by more than 300% and did not achieve the estimated savings.

Needless to say Whitehall officials – and the supplier – regarded the project a success.

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6 responses to “DWP untouched by MPs’ criticisms over Universal Credit IT project

  1. Tony,

    Yes – these press releases and Tweets are very misleading.

    The PAC report says “DWP “gave misleading interviews to the press regarding progress (even) after it became aware of difficulties”. Looks like this leopard had still not changed its spots, Despite yet another change in leadership.

    More here:
    bit.ly/uc-pac-report-blog-november

    Brian

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  2. Generally I agree with you Tony but I think in this case focusing on the points made in your last paragraph misses what I believe is the key issue and can be best expressed as ‘garbage in garbage out’. I mean by this that the original idea for this project and the manner / process by which it was commissioned is where the fatal flaw resides. The same can be said of the NPfIT debacle.

    Unless those that commission such endeavors are fully cognisant of the full scope and ramifications of such an undertaken, it is always the case that it is doomed to fail. Do not expect large scale suppliers to point this out as they stand to make significant revenues and therefore profits supplying exactly what they were asked for. Do not expect those that commission to own up to not understanding what it is they were doing. Also expect significant expenditure on consultants to justify the decisions being made. The entire process is flawed and needs to be trashed and started again in an appropriate manner.

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  3. The culture at work at the DWP is one of total, authoritarian politicisation of the Department. What are officials ‘tweeting’ for in the first place?? Why are staff ‘happy’ to inflict action of sanctioning people when their action is contrary to the ‘care’ the Department claims it has? Who the f*** does George Smith think he is – IDS?????

    Where is the opposition to this gerrymandering?

    Like

  4. Pingback: DWP untouched by MPs’ criticisms over Universal Credit IT project | UNITE@SOMERSET COUNTYCOUNCIL

  5. The culture at work here is DENY, DELAY, DEFEND.

    In the NHS and in social care in Local Authorties, this culture can harm or kill people.

    Great work Tony!

    Like

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