MPs criticise DWP’s refusal to publish Universal Credit reports

By Tony Collins

As the Department for Work and Pensions continues its long and costly legal battle to stop four Universal Credit reports being published, the all-party Public Accounts Committee says a lack of openness “remains within the Department”.

The PAC says in a report published today “Universal Credit: progress update

“… a lack of openness remains within the Department, as does an unwillingness to face up to past failings.

“The Department refused to accept the extent of previous failings, despite the overwhelming evidence we heard last year that the programme’s management had been extraordinarily poor prior to the reset, and the small numbers claiming Universal Credit.

“Furthermore, since early 2012, the Department has been fighting a protracted legal case to prevent the publication of documents relating to the management of Universal Credit…”

The DWP is refusing to release  four Universal Credit reports requested under FOI.

Three of the reports from 2012 – the risks register, issues register and milestone schedule – were requested by programme and project management professional John Slater. I requested a project assessment review of the Universal Credit programme, as carried out by the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority.

When questioned by Margaret Hodge, chair of the PAC, Robert Devereux, the DWP’s Permanent Secretary, suggested that his officials did not publish the reports because similar reports in other departments were also unpublished.

Meanwhile the DWP is pouring public money into various legal appeals related to its refusal to publish the reports. The DWP’s lawyers argue that publishing the four reports would have a “chilling effect”. They say officials need continued confidentiality to be candid about risks and problems.

A counter argument – though not yet one made in any of the legal hearings so far – is that civil servants and consultants writing the reports are writing them for other civil servants and consultants and are more deferential in their findings than they would be if the reports were open to public and Parliamentary scrutiny.

The PAC’s latest report on Universal Credit highlights the many uncertainties that surround the programme’s delivery.

After a total spend of about £700m on the Universal Credit programme so far the Committee questions what has really been gained. It says:

“The Department must set out clearly what it has really gained from its spending so far, including from the piloting of the programme, and from the investment in live service IT systems.”

Fewer than one per cent of the potential claimants are currently claiming Universal Credit although the programme has been in live operation since April 2013.

The DWP says it is going slowly and cautiously but the PAC’s report raises questions about whether the programme, as it is being delivered by the DWP’s major suppliers, will ever be affordable or technically feasible given the amount of manual intervention required.

A separate, far cheaper “digital” solution, which is being built on agile principles,  is being trialled in Sutton, South London. It may offer more hope of successful, affordable delivery than the existing “live service” currently being rolled out. The live service from the DWP’s major suppliers mixes new coding, legacy systems and manual calculations. It has cost £344m so far. The digital solution has cost less than £5m so far.

Comment

Who has the final say on whether the four Universal Credit reports are published – the Department for Work and Pensions or the all-party Public Accounts Committee? Clearly it’s the DWP’s civil servants.

MPs are powerless to force publication of the reports.

What does this say about the ability of MPs to make the most senior civil servants more open than they want to be?

Universal Credit: progress update report

Very little progress on Universal Credit say MPs

DWP wastes money on another Universal Credit FOI appeal

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8 responses to “MPs criticise DWP’s refusal to publish Universal Credit reports

  1. Something interesting regarding expenditure to each Universal credit vendor – https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/dwp-constraints-on-spend-and-exceptions#history. Suprisingly they do no wish to reveal financial expenditure but they have it in public domain

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  2. Universal Credit? Universal C*ck-up more like!

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  3. Pingback: MPs criticise DWP’s refusal to publish Universal Credit reports – Campaign 4 Change | Vox Political

  4. Reblogged this on sdbast.

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  5. Reblogged this on Christopher John Ball and commented:
    Simple question – What have they got to hide? It is an outrage that this information is being withheld, especially as a General Election approaches. But then…

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    • Agreed!

      Yes, they’re hiding things alright. As noted in some blog posts recently, along with personal accounts highlighted on some of the housing websites, many people just aren’t receiving the appropriate amount of UC.

      Outside the Ashton under Lyme jobcentre (renowned for their poor treatment of claimants), campaigners spoke to 5 people a couple of weeks ago that were all about to be evicted from their homes because the DWP had failed to pay the housing element of UC. One person had received only around £400 total UC since September and had to use all of that towards their rent – obviously hardly enough, and they too were about to be made homeless.

      Among other things, this is what they want to hide. It’s not working for people the way that they said it would. For those of us who still have a home, it’s all a terrifying prospect. I have care bills to pay too. I don’t expect to have a home or carers at all within the next few years if the coalition remain in power.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Just what do they want to hide IDS’s total failure to implement his ideology that according to today’s mal-functioning of the system it will never work.

    The consequences and suffering of individuals along the way seem to bear no relevance whatsoever, this man should be brought to justice sooner than later.

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