DWP tries again to stop release of Universal Credit reports

By Tony Collins

The Department for Work and Pensions has requested another legal hearing in its attempt to stop four ageing reports on the Universal Credit programme being published.

The DWP’s formal application to the Upper Tribunal (below) shows that Whitehall officials and work and pensions  ministers, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud,  are prepared to sink more public money into fighting a judge’s ruling in March 2014 that the DWP publish the four reports

It appears the DWP does not want the reports published on a point of principle: the department does not publish any reports on any of its major IT-based change programmes.

Another reason officials and ministers have for keeping the reports confidential is that they would establish what officials knew of Universal Credit programme’s serious problems in 2012 when departmental press releases were saying the scheme was on time and within budget.

The reports could show, without ambiguity, that the DWP misled Parliament in 2012 and 2013 by saying the UC programme was progressing successfully when officials knew this was not the case.

So far the the DWP’s lawyers have lost every stage of their appeals to stop disclosure of the reports. One judge noted the apparent contradiction between what’s in the hidden reports and optimistic press releases issued by the department about the UC programme.

The reports in question date back to 2011 and 2012. They are:

–  A Project Assessment Review of Universal Credit by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority. The Review gave a high-level strategic view of the state of UC, its problems, risks and how well or badly it was being managed.

–  A Risk Register of Universal Credit. It included a description of the risk, the possible impact should it occur, the probability of its occurring, a risk score, a traffic light [Red/Green Amber] status, a summary of the planned response if a risk materialises, and a summary of the risk mitigation.

– An Issues Register for Universal Credit. It contained a short list of problems, the dates when they were identified, the mitigating steps required and the dates for review and resolution.

– A High Level Milestone Schedule for Universal Credit. It is described in the tribunal’s ruling as a “graphic record of progress, measured in milestones, some completed, some missed and others targeted in the future”.

John Slater, who has 25 years experience in IT and programme and project management, requested three of the reports in 2012 under the FOI Act. Separately I requested the Project Assessment Review, also in 2012. The Information Commissioner ruled that the DWP release three of the four reports. He said the Risk Register could stay confidential.

The DWP appealed the ruling and the case came before the first-tier information tribunal earlier this year.  The DWP sent an external legal team to Leicester for the hearing – which the DWP lost.

The tribunal ruled that the DWP publish all four reports. Lawyers for the DWP had claimed that disclosure of the four reports would inhibit the candour and boldness of civil servants who contributed to them – the so-called chilling effect.

The DWP’s lawyers sought the first-tier tribunal’s leave to appeal the ruling, describing it as “perverse”. The  lawyers said the tribunal had wholly misunderstood what was meant by a “chilling effect”, how it was manifested and how its existence could be proved.

They claimed that the first-tier tribunal’s misunderstanding of the chilling effect and its perverse decision were “errors of law”. For the first-tier tribunal’s finding to go to appeal to the “upper tribunal”, the DWP would have needed to prove “errors in law” in the findings of the first-tier tribunal.

The judge in that case, David Farrer QC, found that there were no errors in law in his ruling and he refused the DWP leave to appeal. The DWP then asked the upper tribunal to overrule Farrer’s decision – and the DWP lost again.

The judge in the upper tribunal refused permission for the DWP to appeal.

Rather than simply publish the reports – and avoid further legal costs – the DWP has now asked its lawyers to submit another request for an appeal. This time the DWP has asked for an “oral hearing” so that its lawyers can argue for permission to appeal to the upper tribunal in person, rather than on paper.

The upper tribunal has yet to decide on the DWP’s request for an oral hearing.

As long as the DWP sustains its series of appeals it does not have to publish the four reports, although legal costs from the public purse continue to rise.

The DWP’s latest letter to the upper tribunal:

8 July 2014

Dear Sirs

Department For Work And Pensions v ICO

Application to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal

We write further to your letter dated 25 June 2014 enclosing Upper Tribunal Judge Wikeley’s refusal of the Secretary of State’s application for permission to appeal and above three appeals.

We apply in accordance with rules 22(4) and (5) of the Tribunal Procedure (Upper Tribunal) Rules 2008 for the Department for Work and Pensions’ application for permission to appeal against the First-Tier Tribunal’s decision of 19 March 2014 (notified on 24 March 2014) in the above cases to be reconsidered at an oral hearing.

The Department for Work and Pensions contends that each of the three proposed grounds of appeal is arguable in law for the reasons set out in the grounds of appeal accompanying its application for permission to appeal, and applies for reconsideration before a judge at an oral hearing on that basis.

Yours faithfully …

Comment

The DWP is facing Parliamentary and NAO criticism over the poor state of several of its major programmes. So it is odd that its officials have the time, and can spare the public funds, to fight a long campaign to stop four old UC programme reports being published.

It shows that the DWP cares more about how it is perceived by the outside world than it cares for minimising the public money it spends on this FOI case.

It’s likely that publication of the four reports would slightly embarrass the department but that would soon be forgotten.  Once incurred the legal costs cannot be reclaimed.

The DWP’s claims of a “chilling effect” should the reports be disclosed are entirely understandable. No publicly funded body wants be scrutinised. Officials would rather keep all their internal affairs secret.  But that’s not the way it works in a democracy.

Upper Tribunal ruling Universal Credit appeal

My submission to FOI tribunal on universal credit

Judge [first-tier tribunal] refuses DWP leave to appeal ruling on Universal Credit reports – April 2014

 

 

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18 responses to “DWP tries again to stop release of Universal Credit reports

  1. Pingback: DWP tries again to stop release of Universal Credit reports | Warcraft, Books & Fibromyalgia

  2. Pingback: Up shit creek | Hello from Raging Crip

  3. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    This is really just par for the course for the DWP, which seems to block FOI requests as a simple matter of course because they show how malign and incompetent IDS and his schemes are. The release of these four reports is being blocked as, if released, they’d show that the DWP was well aware of the flaws and severe problems Universal Credit was experiencing, and show that their boss, IDS, was lying to parliament when he declared that everything was all fine and dandy. It also demonstrates that the government’s policy, when faced with legal rulings against them, is to throw good money after bad and keep on appealing in order to keep the report suppressed, no matter what the expense to the public. This just shows how vain IDS is.

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  4. John Suffolk

    Dear Tony I hope you are well

    It is such a shame that we have reached this position. Part of the Conservative Party (not the coalition) election thrust was on openness, transparency etc. Indeed some work has been done on this such as publishing the finance data, a summary report on major projects, but we appear to have gone backwards on no longer publishing an annual report for ICT spend, no longer publishing benchmark data – a prime driver that can reduce costs. According to the NAO some of what is published in terms of progress, is a little, how can I phrase this suspect.

    As you know I am a great fan of publishing all of the project reports. I note all of the comments on the “chilling effect” but this is poppycock, there is no chilling effect and if there was it would be countered by the extra scrutiny change programmes would receive by increased transparency. We should publish everything on projects and programmes.

    Transparency is a good thing. Government does complex work and more eyes on the problem would be a help not a hindrance, accepting we all need to know “who is the cook and who is the food critic”.

    The realism is the only time a government can introduce transparency is at the beginning of a political cycle, this should have been executed at the beginning of the coalition as it becomes almost impossible to become transparent at the beginning of a new election cycle.

    A few words about UC. Before I left Government we reviewed the outline of UC as part of Francis Maude’s project control. I have to say the Ministers were excellent. They fully understood the policy objectives, fully understood the likely benefits and costs, understood the challenges but rightly deferred to officials on execution – how do we get from A to B. The Officials were far less impressive… Since then the ICT Team and Executive at DWP have gone through substantial change, the Civil Service have gone through a period of “transition” or “turmoil”; suppliers have gone through similar experiences and here we are trying to undertake one of the largest changes to the benefits system. We should not be surprised if there are a few wrinkles, nor should we be surprised if things move around a bit (what doesn’t. big or small) but what we should be surprised at is that Cabinet Office doesn’t appear to be backing the programme.

    I read with some mild amusement that GDS had taken their toys home and withdrew troops from “supporting” the programme. Excuse me, but isn’t this a flagship Programme?, won’t this programme save billions of pounds? won’t this programme begin to change the something for nothing culture to nothing for nothing culture (unless there are real health reasons etc)? So we should have robbed all of the most talented resources of less priority programmes to support this, we didn’t we went and sulked in the corner because they wouldn’t accept our ideas – instead we go and play around with websites and mess with tactical online services rather than focussing on the things that matter. You could also see this manifested in the major projects report where they singled out UC in a special category. Boys boys your job is to work together not squabble like little children. Get the best resources on UC, accept it is complex and dates will move around, take steady small steps and prove the programme and then get your shoulders behind it to make the implementation a success.

    Without doubt the Government have made many substantial improvements but when it comes to getting big changed implemented there is a long way to go.

    Best wishes

    John Suffolk

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  5. I suppose when they are finally dragged kicking and screaming to finally publishing them, then they will say that these are “just old reports and in no way relevent to the state of Universal Credit as it is now”. and then no reporter will say “if they’re irrelevent, why have you blown all this money on lawyers”?

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    • You’re right about what would happen if the reports are ever published. I don’t think they will be. The chances are the DWP will keep spending on lawyers until it has exhausted all legal appeals and then has to issue a ministerial veto. The DWP goes into auto pilot when asked under FOI to release any reports on its big IT-based projects such as Universal Credit: and its ministers and senior officials are programmed to self-destruct sooner than release the reports. I doubt the reports say anything interesting and as you say they are old. It’;s not what’s in them that matters. It’s a tradition the DWP doesn’t publish its reports and that’s a civil service tradition that’s unchangeable. So much for open government or government of the people, by the people, for the people. No matter how many judges tell the DWP to publish the reports, DWP officials (and its lawyers) will believe they know better. .

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  6. Pingback: DWP tries to block failings report (again) « Stop MP lies & propaganda

  7. Reblogged this on stewilko's Blog and commented:
    The DWP, hold on a minute. Let us get this right, who are the organ grinders of all this. Lord Freud, his right honourable Ian Duncan Smith MP, all their side kicks. At the grassroots Freud who dreamt up all this mess under Labour. They had the good sense to dismiss is illusionist mindset. Then he moved to the Conservatives, who with their evil, unsympathetic range of political motivate policies. Likewise, In the future, hopefully they will face public security. Although i don’t mean from the Commons, from a criminal and legal point. They have ignored numerous UK human, civil and European Court of human rights.

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  8. gfranklinpercival

    These are the actions of desperate people. They have based actions that should be for the good of the people on ideology and with a view to self-aggrandisement. They have ignored, worse still, buried evidence. The child sexual abuse scandal has crept over the doorstep of present-day Downing Street. They know they are ruined and finished, but they still want to put off the day of reckoning. I wish I could say I will laugh when their house of straw blows away, but there will be too much work to be done to indulge in such luxuries.

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  9. Reblogged this on amnesiaclinic and commented:
    Every trick in the book to stop the publication of these damning reports while racking up the costs …but then guess who foots the bill…
    x

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  10. Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating and commented:
    The DWP and IDS will stop at nothing to hide the truth about the failure of UC. Despite losing court case after court case over the publication of delayed reports into the UC fiasco, they again try to appeal another decision in the hope of hiding the truth. IDS must be shitting his pants its all going to come out…

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  11. Reblogged this on Jay's Journal and commented:
    More lies, more appeals, more public money getting wasted…

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  12. This government and their lies are seen by the outside world – they are seen by the amount of homeless families, by the starving children and by the reports being sent to the UN, and that’s just a few examples!
    The judges should just tell them to pack it in and release the reports, give them a week to do so or send in some heavies. After all, that’s what they’d do to us!

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  13. Pingback: DWP tries again to stop release of Universal Credit reports | John D Turner

  14. Reblogged this on jaynelinney and commented:
    Another example of IDS & Freud trying to ‘Hide’ their LIES??

    Join the TRUTH Campaign Today http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/house-of-commons-stop-ministers-spinning-statistics-accept-the-recommendations-of-select-committees-stop-ministers-spinning-dwp-statistics

    #NOWPetition #ImeachDWP

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  15. can’t we just bomb the dwp?

    Like

    • What? And risk their claiming that the reports were destroyed in the blast? No way! I want them to answer for their crimes.

      Like

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