For the first time Iain Duncan Smith has made the distinction between the full business for Universal Credit, which has not been approved, and the strategic outline business case which has been approved.
The truth emerged after a question in the House of Commons this afternoon by Chris Bryant, shadow minister for welfare reform.
On previous occasions when ministers had been asked whether the business case for UC had been approved they replied that the strategic outline business case had been approved. They omitted to say that the full business case, which assures long-term finance for the programme, has not yet been approved.
Now IDS has confirmed to Bryant that approval of the full business case for UC is due “very shortly”. Bryant had asked IDS whether the business case had been approved – yes or no? IDS gave a lengthy reply before answering the question. He said:
“The Treasury have approved the funding for Universal Credit in 2013, 2014, and 2015 [though not beyond that] in line with the plan I announced in December last year… the final stage in this process, and the logical point is now, has always been to approve and sign off the full business case covering the full, long lifetime of this programme going on beyond this Parliament.
“We are in discussions over that and will eventually bring the £35bn economic benefits to society … and my right honourable friend (in the Treasury) I am certain will approve that very soon.”
Approval of the full business case is far from guaranteed. Withholding consent gives the Cabinet Office, Major Projects Authority and the Treasury a continued say over how the UC programme develops.
Once approval of the full business is given, the centre of government will have less influence over the programme.
Opposition MPs also asked IDS this afternoon whether he would publish the UC business case. He said that no government has previously published business cases but he would consider the matter and discuss it with MPs.
The DWP has not published any of its internal or commissioned UC reports.
Thank you to openness campaigner Dave Orr who drew my attention to the UC debate in the House of Commons today.