By Tony Collins
Labour has a “Universal Credit Rescue Committee” whose membership includes a former Rolls Royce CIO Jonathan Mitchell.
Mitchell is quoted in Government Computing as saying that it would be irresponsible for a Labour government to continue spending large amounts of money on Universal Credit without getting answers to important questions such as:
- Is there a comprehensive business case – one that clearly outlines the expected benefits, demonstrating that the Universal Credit project is viable?
- Is the business case agreed by all stakeholders?
- Is there clarity about what needs to be achieved?
- Is there a stable specification explaining exactly how the new processes will work and how they will be automated?
- Is the project being managed and staffed by people and organisations with appropriate levels of experience, track-record and expertise, all of whom are capable of delivering the benefits of the project and ensuring safe roll-out in a timely manner?
- Is the project fully under control?
- Can it absorb the changes demanded by a new incoming Government? If not, can the project be brought under control at an acceptable cost with respect to the business case, through a re-planning exercise?
- Once such a re-planning exercise is completed, are we convinced that it was successful and that the project will now proceed to a satisfactory completion in a controlled fashion?
- Are there appropriate “control gates” in place to ensure that all aspects of each phase of the plan are fully completed (and that projected costs to completion preserve the business case) before allowing the project to move safely onto each next stage?
Mitchell said, “Universal Credit is one of those applications that might look straightforward when you first look at it, but this is most definitely not the case. I believe there are significant process and technical challenges to overcome.”
Good questions, most of which the Department for Work and Pensions is unlikely to be able to answer satisfactorily today.
The Treasury still hasn’t approved the full business case, which is odd for a project that started in earnest more than three years ago.
It’s hard to see, given the rate of progress, the amount of work being completed manually, the lack of integration with legacy systems, the complexity of changes of behaviour required, the reliance on other parties such as local authorities, the inflexibility of some supplier contracts, regularly changing project leadership, the variable performance of HMRC’s RTI systems, and the DWP’s poor history of success on big IT-related projects, how the UC programme will be completed before 2020 whoever wins the next election.