Category Archives: Real-Time Information

Universal Credit and Pitchford – good move or a potential conflict of interest?

By Tony Collins

The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that the executive director of the Major Projects Authority, David Pitchford, is to take interim charge of the delivery of Universal Credit, starting this week, says Government Computing.

Pitchford will stay initially for a three-month stint until a permanent replacement is appointed. He joins DWP’s CIO Andy Nelson, who was previously at the Ministry of Justice,  in helping to oversee the Universal Credit project.

Pitchford and Nelson are jointly taking the place of Philip Langsdale, DWP’s highly respected CIO, who passed away just before Christmas last year.

The Daily Telegraph and Independent have portrayed Pitchford’s appointment as a sign that Universal Credit is in trouble. The Telegraph’s headline on Monday was

Welfare reforms in doubt as troubleshooter takes over

And the Independent reported that:

“Ministers have been forced to draft in one of the Government’s most experienced trouble-shooters to take charge of the troubled Universal Credit programme – amid fears the complex new system could backfire.”

But DWP officials say Pitchford’s appointment is not a sign Universal Credit is behind schedule.

A DWP spokesperson said, “David Pitchford will be temporarily leading Universal Credit following the death of Philip Langsdale at Christmas. This move will help ensure the continued smooth preparation for the early rollout of Universal Credit in Manchester and Cheshire in April. A recruitment exercise for a permanent replacement will be starting shortly.”

In Pitchford’s absence, the day-to-day running of the Major Projects Authority will be handled by Juliet Mountford and Stephen Mitchell, with oversight from government chief operating officer Stephen Kelly. Pitchford will retain overall responsibility for the MPA’s activities, says Government Computing.


On the face of it Pitchford’s appointment is a clever move: the Cabinet Office now has a senior insider at the DWP who can report back on the state of the Universal Credit project.

Francis Maude, who is the Cabinet Office minister in change of efficiency and is trying to distance the government from from Labour’s IT disasters, is almost openly worried about the smell that could come from a failure of the Universal Credit project.

DWP secretary of state Iain Duncan Smith keeps reassuring his ministerial colleagues that critics are ill-formed and all is well with the project. But it is not clear whether he has an overly positive interpretation of the facts or understands the complexities of the project and all that could go wrong.

Even officials at HMRC are having difficulty understanding some of the detailed technical lessons from the work so far on RTI – Real-time information. Although RTI does not need Universal Credit to succeed, Universal Credit is dependent on  RTI.

With  much conflicting information within government over the state of the Universal Credit project – which is compounded by DWP’s refusal under FOI to publish several consultancy reports it has commissioned on the scheme – it is useful for the Cabinet Office to have the highly experienced and much respected Australian David Pitchford run Universal Credit. 

Pitchford is a much-valued civil servant in part because he is straight-talking. He said in  2011 that government projects failed because of:

– Political pressure

– No business case

– No agreed budget
– 80% of projects launched before 1,2 & 3 have been resolved
– Sole solution approach (options not considered)
– Lack of Commercial capability  – (contract / administration)
– No plan
– No timescale
– No defined benefits

Since he made this speech, and it was reported, Pitchford has become a little more guarded about what he says in public. The longer he stays in the innately secretive UK civil service, the more guarded he seems to become but he is still one the best assets the Cabinet Office has. His main advantage is his independence from government departments.

Potential for a conflict of interest?

The Major Projects Authority exists to provide independent oversight of big projects that could otherwise fail. Regularly it is  in polite conflict with departments over the future direction of questionable projects and indeed whether they should come under the scrutiny of the MPA at all.

Pitchford’s taking over of Universal Credit, even on an interim basis, raises questions about whether he can ever  be seen in future as an independent scrutineer of the project. According to The Independent, Pitchford will report directly to Iain Duncan Smith – bypassing the DWP’s permanent secretary Robert Devereux.

Once his secondment to the DWP ends Pitchford may wish to criticise aspects of the project. Can he do so with the armour of independence having run the project? Would he have the authority to delay Universal Credit’s introduction?

Pitchford is now an integral part of Universal Credit. He is in the position of the local government ombudsman who is seconded to a local authority, or an auditor at the National Audit Office who sits on the board of a government department.  If a big project at the department goes wrong, the permanent secretary can say to the NAO:  “Well you had a representative on our board. Are you in a position to criticise us?”

The MPA does a good job largely because it is independent of departments. There are signs that it is intervening to stop failing projects or put them on a more secure footing. Can the MPA remain independent of departments if its head has been seconded to a department?

On the other hand Francis Maude is likely to receive an account of how Universal Credit is going. And the Universal Credit project will have the benefit of an external, independent scrutineer as its head.

But if the MPA and Universal Credit are inextricably linked how can the MPA do its job of being an independent regulator of big IT projects including Universal Credit?

Pitchford takes on Universal Credit role

Government brings in troubleshooter to get Universal Credit on track.

Welfare reforms in doubt after troubleshooter takes over

Universal Credit – the ace up Duncan Smith’s sleeve?

By Tony Collins

Some people, including those in the know, suspect  Universal Credit will be a failed IT-based project, among them Francis Maude. As Cabinet Office minister Maude is ultimately responsible for the Major Projects Authority which has the job, among other things, of averting major project failures.

But Iain Duncan Smith, the DWP secretary of state, has an ace up his sleeve: the initial go-live of Universal Credit is so limited in scope that claims could be managed by hand, at least in part.

The DWP’s FAQs suggest that Universal Credit will handle, in its first phase due to start in October 2013, only new claims  – and only those from the unemployed.  Under such a light load the system is unlikely to fail, as any particularly complicated claims could managed clerically. 

The second phase of Universal Credit, which is due to begin in April 2014, is the important one, in terms of number of claimants. But this phase may be delayed with a general election approaching, according to Government Computing, which quotes the FT.

This is from the DWP’s website:

“Universal Credit will start to take new claims from unemployed people in October 2013.”

It continues:

“For people in work this process will begin in April 2014. The remainder of current claims will be moved to Universal Credit from 2014, with the process being complete by 2017.”


The projected costs of real-time information, an HMRC project on which the success of Universal Credit depends, have increased by tens of millions from an initial estimate of £108m, according to Ruth Owen, Director General, Personal Tax, HMRC.  At least HMRC is being open about RTI – relative to the DWP which continues to deny FOI requests for the risk register or independent assessments of the progress or otherwise of the Universal Credit IT project.

Auditors at the National Audit Office found that the Rural Payment Agency’s Single Payment Scheme for farmers dealt with so few claims that it could have been handled manually for a fraction of the cost of an IT system that went awry. Perhaps Iain Duncan Smith has learnt from that episode.

As Universal Credit phase one will handle only new claims from the unemployed, there may be no need initially for complicated monthly interactions with HMRC’s Real-time information [PAYE] systems. 

There may be further restrictions on go-live UC candidates. The DWP may insist that unemployed new claimants are single, childless, between certain ages and not receiving certain benefits or tax credits. They may have to have a valid bank account.

So the numbers of claimants and simplified processing will maximise the chances of a go-live success.

This may explain why the Major Projects Authority has not intervened (yet) to delay the October 2013 go-live date.   

It makes sense to minimise complications when going live. But the Passport Agency found that although the go-live of new systems in 1999 went well, extra IT-related security checks slowed down the issuing of passports, such that backlogs built up, people lost their holidays and queues built up at passport offices. It was a project disaster. 

The real test of the agile-based Universal Credit project will be when existing benefit claimants move onto the new systems in large numbers. This will not happen before the next general election. The plan is for the roll-out to be completed by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile does Iain Duncan Smith plan to claim a victory for the go-live of Universal Credit when the initial transactions are so simple, and the numbers involved  so insignificant, they could be managed clerically if necessary?

 As long as Universal Credit does not reduce payments to the genuinely disabled and the most needy, it is generally regarded as a good idea. It should cut fraud and administrative costs. 

It’s a pity though that no central department can be open about the progress of its major  IT-related projects; and on forcing these progress reports out of dark departmental corners the coalition has made no difference at all.

Will GDS delay Universal Credit by a year? – David Moss’s blog

Are HMRC’s IT costs under firm control?

By Tony Collins

 The costs of IT outsourcing at HMRC have soared despite a well-written contract that promised large savings. When, as Inland Revenue, the department first outsourced IT in 1994, annual IT costs were around £100m.  Now it has emerged that HMRC’s  annual IT spending was running at more than  £1bn between April 2011 and March 2012.  Only some of the 10-fold increase is explained by new work.

Are there lessons for Barnet, Cornwall and other public authorities as they ponder large-scale outsourcing, given that HMRC did almost everything right and still faces a costly contractual lock-in to major IT suppliers until 2017 – a 13-year outsourcing contract?

HMRC has made some extraordinary payments to its outsourcing suppliers since 2011  – more than mid-way through a 13-year contract.

HMRC figures collated by former Inland Revenue IT employee and now payroll specialist Matt Boyle of Research4paye show that HMRC paid its “Aspire” IT partners £964.2m in a single year, between April 2011 and March 2012.

HMRC paid a further £42.6m of invoices from Serco for one year of website development and support. These figures do not include all of HMRC’s IT costs between April 2011 and March 2012, such as invoices from Accenture for maintenance fees and for work relating to Customs.

IT costs soar

1994. £100 annual IT costs. Inland Revenue first outsources its 2,000-strong IT department to EDS. The annual cost of the 10-year contract is about £100m a year according to the National Audit Office.

2004.  £250m annual IT costs. The end of the EDS contract. HMRC’s annual IT costs have risen to about £250m a year (National Audit Office figure).

2004. £280m annual IT costs. Capgemini wins from EDS a new 10-year HMRC outsourcing deal called Aspire (Acquiring Strategic Partners for the Inland Revenue). Capgemini’s main subcontractors are Fujitsu and Accenture. Capgemini’s bid is for £2.8bn, an average of £280m a year.

2005. £539m annual IT cost.  Inland Revenue merges with Customs and Excise to form HMRC which takes on £1bn Fujitsu IT contract from Customs. The first year of the Aspire contract costs £539m, nearly double the expected amount. The NAO blames most of the increase on new work.

2007. In return for promised savings of £70m a year from 2010/11, HMRC extends Capgemini’s contract by three years to 2017. There’s an option to extend for a further five years.

2010. £700m annual IT costs. Under FOI, HMRC releases a statement saying that the Aspire annual contract costs are running at about £700m.

2011/12. £964.2m annual IT cost. HMRC’s list of invoices from its Aspire suppliers for one year between April 2011 and March 2012 add up to £964.2m. A further £42.6m is invoiced by Serco for website development and support.  This puts HMRC’s IT annual outsourcing costs at 10 times higher than they were when Inland Revenue let its first outsourcing deal in 1994. Some of today’s HMRC systems pre-date 1994 [BROCS/CODA].

Aspire – a good contract?

It appears that HMRC did everything right in its Aspire contract. Indeed the National Audit Office has found little to criticise. Aspire is committed to “open book”, so Capgemini, Fujitsu and Accenture must account for their costs and profit margins.

The contract has some innovations. The suppliers’ margin is retained by HMRC until trials are successfully passed. Even then 50% of the margin is retained until the final Post Implementation Trial about six months after implementation.

Charges under Aspire are split into two categories: “S” and “P”.  The former is mainly a commodity pricing arrangement with unit prices being charged for all service elements at a commodity level (e.g. per Workstation, volumes of printed output etc). The charge to HMRC will vary by volume of demand for each service line.

The ‘’P’’ series charge lines are charged on a man-day basis. Application development and delivery is charged mainly on what HMRC calls an “output basis utilising function points“.

Where IT spending goes

There are more than 800 invoices from Aspire covering the year from April 2011 to March 2012. Some of the invoices are, individually, for tens of millions of pounds and cover a single month’s work.

The invoices cover services such as data centre output, data centre operations, systems software maintenance, software coding changes, licences, IT hardware and data storage.

For some of the Aspire invoices HMRC gives a brief explanation such as £57.6m – “June monthly payment for development and support”. But some of the biggest invoices have little explanation:

May 2011:  invoice for £24.7m – IT Software. A further invoice of £61.7m – “data output prod”.

June 2011: invoice for £55.8m – “data output prod”. A further invoice £56.8m – “data output prod”.

On top of these payments HMRC paid about 24 invoices of management fees in the year. Typical monthly invoice amounts for Aspire management fees ranged from about £390,000 to £2.9m.

There are dozens of Aspire invoices in the year for IT software changes to support day-to-day HMRC’s business. Quite a few of those invoices for software changes are each for tens of thousands of pounds but more than 30 invoices for IT changes in the year 2011/12 each bill more than £100,000. The biggest single invoice in the same year for software changes to support day-to-day HMRC business is  £469, 964 in December 2011.


Matt Boyle collated the figures on HMRC’s IT spending from spreadsheets published by HMRC . All credit to Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, for making government departments publish details of their invoices over £25,000.

And credit is due to Matt Boyle for collating and totalling HMRC’s IT-related invoices. Boyle says he is surprised at the high costs of Aspire. He is also surprised that the contract excludes web development and support.


HMRC appears to have done nearly everything right and still its IT outsourcing costs are soaring, apparently uncontrollably.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the department and taxpayers would have been much better off if Inland Revenue had not outsourced and instead spent the millions it pays annually on, say,  management fees, to building up an in-house IT force and expertise.

Central government seems now to shun big outsourcing deals but local authorities including Barnet and Cornwall are at the stage Inland Revenue was in 1994: they are considering saving money by outsourcing major IT and other services to one main supplier.

If they learn from HMRC’s experiences – and the sums it has had to pay to outsourcing partners – it may take a little of the sting out of HMRC’s enforced prodigality.

[It may also be worth mentioning that some including Boyle ask how it is possible to credibly justify a spend of £46m in one year on a website.]

DWP starts media campaign on Universal Credit IT tomorrow

By Tony Collins

The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has told MPs his department is launching a “major exercise” tomorrow to inform the media about Universal Credit, including progress with the IT project.

The public relations push will include a demonstration to journalists of the Univeral Credit front-end, and an explanation of the ability of “agile” to rectify problems as you go along. Duncan Smith said there is a lot of ignorance in the media, and suppositions, that need tackling head on.

His full statement on the PR campaign is at the foot of this article.


Iain Duncan Smith’s remarks to MPs sound remarkably like the statements that were made in the early part of the National Programme for IT in the NHS, when DH ministers and senior officials were anxious to correct ignorance and suppositions in the media – and to show journalists the front end of new electronic patient record systems.

Several times journalists were invited to Richmond house in Whitehall, the HQ of the DH, to hear how well the NPfIT was going. So anxious were the minister and leading officials to give a good impression of the programme that, on one occasion, trade journalists who had an insight into the NPfIT’s progress and could ask some awkward questions in front of the general media were barred from attending.

I would like Universal Credit to succeed. In concept it simplifies the excessively complex and costly benefit system. The worrying thing about the scheme, apart from the DWP’s overly sensitive reactions to scepticism in the media, is the way UC seems to be following the path which led to NPfIT’s downfall.

The Secretary of State attacks the media while trying to show UC in a glowing light and at the same time keeps secret all the DWP’s interview reviews and reports on actual progress. Duncan Smith says that the DWP wants to be open on UC but his department is turning down FOI requests.

There is no doubt that Duncan Smith has a conviction that the programme is on course, on budget, and will deliver successfully. But there still a morass of uncertainty for the DWP to contend with, and lessons to be learnt from pilots, some of which could be important enough to require a fundamental re-think. That’s to say nothing of HMRC’s Real-Time Information project which is part of UC.

Duncan Smith says the UC project is not due to be complete until 2017 which gives the DWP ample time to get it right. But ministers and officials in the last administration gave the NPfIT 10 years to complete; and today, nine years later, the scheme is being officially dismantled.

Did NPfIT ministers really know or understand the extent of the project’s true complexities and uncertainties?  Did they fully grasp the limited ability of suppliers to deliver, or the willingness of the NHS to change?  But they were impressed with the patient record front-end system and they organised several Parliamentary events to demonstrate it to MPs.

The NPfIT public relations exercises – which included DH-sponsored DVDs and a board game to market the NPfIT – were all in the end pointless.

Should Duncan Smith be running Universal Credit?

This is another concern. Duncan Smith is much respected and admired in Parliament but he appears too close to UC to be an objective leader. At a hearing of the Work and Pensions this week Duncan Smith took mild criticism of UC as if it were a verbal attack on his child.

It is doubtful anyone working for Duncan Smith would dare give him bad news on UC , though he attends lots of departmental meetings. Doubtless he listens to all those who agree with him, those who are walking press releases on the progress of the UC programme. He’d be a good marketing/PR man on UC. But surely not its leader. Not the one making the most important decisions. For that you would need somebody who’s free from the politics, who is independently minded, and who welcomes informed criticism.

Is there any point in a demo of front-end systems?

Seeing a front-end system means little or nothing. The question is will it work in practice when it is scaled up, when exceptions come to light, and when large numbers of people try to contact the helpdesks because they cannot get to grips with the technology and the interfaces,  or have particular difficulties with their claim.

What will a media campaign achieve?

If the NPfIT experiences are anything to go by, journalists who criticise the UC project will be made to feel stupid or uninformed.

In a totalitarian regime the media could be forced to publish what the government wants people to believe. Will the DWP’s PR campaign be designed to achieve the same end without the slightest attempt at coercion?

Duncan Smith’s comments to MPs

Below is some of what Iain Duncan Smith told Work and Pensions Committee MPs this week. He had been asked by a Committee MP to have a dialogue with the media to ensure that people believe that Universal Credit is a good thing.

Duncan Smith:

“On Thursday we are carrying out a major exercise in informing the median about what we are doing, looking at the system front-end, about budgets and all the elements the committee has been inquiring into.

“We will take them through that, show them that. We are going to open up much more. It is such an important system that I want people to learn what it is all about.  There is a lot of ignorance in the media and suppositions made; things that are important to tackle head on. Everyone says you mustn’t have a big bang; you are not going to be ready in time. The time we deliver this is 2017 when it is complete.  That is over four years…”

Ex Government CIO Joe Harley rejoins private sector

By Tony Collins

Former Government CIO Joe Harley has taken a position as non-executive adviser to Amor Group, an IT and business technology provider to the transport, energy and public sectors.

Amor says is taking the place of large systems integrators whose “monopolies are ending”.

It is Harley’s first official role since retiring from the civil service earlier this year.

Amor Group says it has “succeeded in recruiting the man credited with reforming the UK Government’s information communication and technology strategy to act as a strategic adviser”.

Harley was UK Government CIO between 2011 and 2012 and CIO at the Department of Work and Pensions from 2004 to 2012.

Amor has a turnover of about £45m and nearly 600 staff at offices in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Manchester, Coventry, London, Dubai and Houston.

Harley said,

“Amor Group is a new breed of companies that is helping organisations to improve their business performance and to manage their ICT budgets to deliver maximum value in the current economic climate and I am delighted to be helping a company which has grown year on year in a tough market, and that has such great ambitions for growth.

“Businesses are looking to more agile, flexible firms who can act quickly and save costs whilst not lowering service levels. I am looking forward to helping Amor continue that trend.”

John Innes, CEO at Amor, said,  “The days of the large systems integrators and monopolies are ending and we are taking their place. We signed a £18.5m contract last year with the Scottish Government to run its eProcurement service and we’ve seen real traction in International markets with our passenger tracking technology being installed at Dubai Airport and a number of wins for our Energy team in the US.

“What sets us apart is our culture as a company. We understand that technology only has a value when it delivers benefits to an organisation and we focus on delivering those benefits rather than selling heavyweight solutions.”

Harley’s background:

1993 – 1996: BP Alaska, IT director
1996 – 1998: BP Exploration and Downstream Europe, CIO
1998 – 2000: BP, global IT vice president
2000 – 2004: ICI Paints, CIO
2004 – 2012 Director General of Corporate IT and CIO, Department for Work and Pensions. Government CIO from 2011-2012.
Harley led the Universal Credit IT scheme which is due to go live from next October.

Timetable for HMRC’s work on Universal Credit is “challenging” says NAO

By Tony Collins

Today’s report of the National Audit Office on the accounts of HMRC is, perhaps diplomatically, silent on the performance of HMRC’s work so far on Universal Credit, other than to say the timetable for roll-out beginning in October next year is “challenging”.

There have been internal assessments of HMRC’s “Real Time Information” [RTI] project, on which the success of Universal Credit is dependent, but none has been published other than the “Starting Gate”.

Today’s NAO report on HMRC says the “timetable for implementation of RTI is challenging”. It adds:

“The Department for Work and Pension’s timetable to implement Universal Credit is driving the timetable to roll-out RTI. The Department for Work and Pensions requires real time PAYE information on employment and pension income to award and adjust Universal Credit.

“It is rolling out Universal Credit from October 2013 to 2017. All employers and pension providers need to be using RTI by October 2013 to meet this timetable.

“The Department met its milestone to start its RTI pilot in April 2012 with ten employers. By July 2012, it expects a further 310 employers will be using RTI. At 31 May 2012, 209 PAYE schemes covering 1.5 million individual records were using RTI.”

NAO report on HMRC’s 2011/12 accounts

HMRC still plagued by IT problems.

Time for truth on Universal Credit

HMRC loses an important voice on its board

By Tony Collins

Steve Lamey, who is leaving HM Revenue and Customs as Director General, Benefits and Credits, has worked tirelessly to improve the organisation’s systems and administration; and he has gained a reputation for listening to IT suppliers.

In 2007 he  won a British Software Satisfaction award for his work in promoting collaboration within the business software industry. He joined HMRC in October 2004 as CIO.

He is perceived to be leaving at a time when there are a number of vacancies at the top of HMRC. Accountancylive reported last month there was an “exodus”of senior officials from HMRC, and morale is said to be low.  But a man as influential as Lamey can do only so much.  Anyone who wants to effect major change at  HMRC must move an iceberg with a rowing boat. That said there have been some HMRC IT-related successes.

Was Lamey an unexploded force at HMRC?

But it’s conceivable that Lamey could have achieved more if he had carried on the way he started: by highlighting the need for change.

He unwittingly made a name for himself in 2005 after a speech he gave to a Government IT conference in which he revealed some of the corporate weaknesses of HMRC, an the organisation he had  joined not long before.

He  probably had not expected  his comments to be reported first in Computer Weekly and then on the front page of the Daily Telegraph.

At that time Lamey was HMRC’s new CIO. He told delegates of some of his discoveries, namely that:

– At least 31 million wrongly addressed letters were being sent out.

– Nearly half of self-assessment tax forms were being incorrectly processed and had to be done again.

–  he had been struck by the out-of-date computer systems. He told the conference: “If I were an information technology historian I would love it. We need to move on from there.”

– his  “biggest, biggest, biggest challenge” was correcting “poor quality data”.

Later a Daily Telegraph article, quoted me as saying “Mr Lamey’s frank assessment of the state of the tax department’s processes and systems is a rare and fresh approach for a senior government official.”

But was Lamey muzzled?

After that article it seems that Lamey was effectively muzzled, at least from making disclosures in public about HMRC’s flaws. Board papers at the time indicated that senior civil servants at HMRC would, in future, have to clear their public speeches in advance. Lamey did not make a similar speech in public again, not to my knowledge at least.

Richard Bacon MP, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, spoke at the time of the apparent attempts by HMRC to silence Lamey.

“It was refreshing to have a senior IT specialist, who is familiar with the business issues, and who is prepared to identify clearly what the scale of the problems is. Unless you’ve got that degree of frankness and candour, I don’t think you’re really going to solve the underlying problems. The alternative is to be in denial, to suggest that the problems don’t exist. It is plain that they do.”

The then Shadow Treasury minister Baroness Noakes, who was formerly a partner at KPMG, said she was concerned that it was already hard for parliament to discover how well HMRC was managing its business.

She said HMRC was “apparently silencing people from telling the truth”. She added “Speaking the truth [in the public sector] in the way you do in the private sector may well not be as acceptable.”

Would Lamey have been even more influential if he had continued – in public – to point to the weaknesses HMRC needed to tackle?

So defensive is HMRC that it considered a positive PR campaign to highlight its strengths after the loss of two CDs which contained the details of 25 million people.

Can an organisation that intuitively discounts and suppresses the negatives while trumpeting the positives ever properly reform itself? Probably not. If you cannot accept you have problems you cannot resolve them. We wonder how HMRC is getting on with its part of the Universal Credit project … its officials say all is well.

Attempts to constrain HMRC directors.

Front page Telegraph article with references to Steve Lamey’s speech

HMRC honcho poached.

Time for truth on Universal Credit

Hungry re-seller bags Steve Lamey.

Whistleblower punished?

Time for truth on Universal Credit IT

By Tony Collins

A normally-reliable contact says that the IT project for Universal Credit is in trouble.

A deadline this month to lock-down features in the scheme will not be met, says the contact. This failure will jeopardise the go-live date of October next year for the start of Universal Credit.

The contact also says that the Government will make an announcement on the scheme in September which may refer to a write-off of at least £150m on the IT project. The suggestion is that although the scheme is in trouble officials may be reluctant to impart the whole truth to ministers.

We wonder about the difficulties of agreeing system features when there are so many parties involved in the IT project: HMRC, DWP, local authorities, banks and private sector employers. The contact also says Oracle is having trouble handling functionality.

Officially all is well. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan-Smith, spoke with confidence about the future of the scheme in the House of Commons last week.

That said, he told Parliament on 5 March about the “issues and problems” related to HMRC’s Real-Time Information project which is an essential part of the Universal Credit IT project. He said: 

HMRC, which is now responsible for this measure, meets me and others in the Department regularly. We have embedded some DWP employees in the HMRC programme; they are locked together. They are, as I understand it, on time, and they are having constant discussions with large and small employers about the issues and the problems, and assessing what needs to be done to make this happen and to make all the changes.

“We must remember that all those firms collect those data anyway; the only question is how they report it back within the monthly cycle. We are on top of that but, obviously, we want to keep our eye on the matter.”

Problems with the IT for Universal Credit – the Government’s leading “agile” software project – may bring a smirk to the faces of those who believe that departments cannot manage agile-based schemes. But agile proponents have long said that Universal Credit is only partially agile – and they have argued that agile should not be mixed with traditional software-writing approaches.

Suppliers on Universal Credit, which include HP, Accenture, IBM,Capgemini and Oracle, are not particularly well known for their love of agile on Government IT projects.

Time for the truth  

The Department for Work and Pensions is refusing to publish any of its reports and assessments on the IT for Universal Credit. The secret reports include:

–   A Project Assessment Review in November 2011

– Universal Credit Delivery Model Assessment Two (McKinsey and Partners)

– Universal Credit end-to-end Technical Review (IBM).


Officials and ministers speak publicly about the solid progress on Universal Credit IT while refusing to publish their internal reports on progress or otherwise of the scheme.

Past NAO reports have shown that ministers and sometimes senior officials are sometimes kept in the dark when major IT-related projects go wrong. Project steering groups are told what they want to hear. The Programme Board on the NPfIT discussed successes with enthusiasm and hardly mentioned serious problems, judging by minutes of its meetings.

We hope that all is well with Universal Credit IT. The project is, after all,  an advert for innovation in the public sector. If it’s in trouble the truth should come out. Keeping it quiet until September means that suppliers will continue to be paid for several months unnecessarily – perhaps to keep them supportive?

Labour was overly defensive and secretive about its many IT-related failures whereas “openness” is the coalition’s much-favoured word. It’s a pity it has yet to be applied to the Universal Credit IT project.

Secret DWP reports.

Who’ll be responsible if Universal Credit goes wrong?

Banks “unlikely to deliver” Universal Credit

Universal Credit IT plans too optimistic warn MPs.

Universal Credit latest

Universal Credit: who’ll be responsible if it goes wrong?

By Tony Collins

When asked whether Universal Credit will work, be on budget and on time, Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Office, gave a deft reply. He told Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke on 13 March 2012:

“From where I sit today, I think all the signs are very positive. I am never going to predict that something is going to be on time and on budget until it is.”

If the plans do not fall into place who, if anyone, will be responsible? In theory it’ll be Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. But as Watmore told the Public Administration Committee, there are several other organisations involved. Although the DWP and HMRC are building the IT systems, the success of Universal Credit also relies on local authorities, which are overseen by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

There are also the Cabinet Office and the Treasury whose officials seek to “ensure that what is going on is appropriate” said Watmore.

If Univeral Credit goes awry all the departments may be able to blame the private sector: the employers that must pass PAYE information to HMRC so that the Revenue’s Real-Time Information element of Universal Credit can work.

David Gauke is the minister responsible for HMRC so would he take some of the blame if Real-Time Information didn’t work, or was not on budget, or was delayed?

Or would the main IT suppliers Accenture and IBM take any of the blame? Highly unlikely, whatever the circumstances.

There is also a dependency on the banks.

But nothing is wrong … is it?

All those putatively responsible for Universal Credit continue to say that all is going well.

Duncan Smith told the House of Commons on 5 March 2012:

“We are making good progress towards the delivery of universal credit in 2013, and I have fortnightly progress meetings with officials and weekly reports from my office. I also chair the universal credit senior sponsorship group, which brings together all Government Departments and agencies that are relevant to the delivery of universal credit.

“Design work is well under way and is being continually tested with staff and claimants, and the development of the necessary IT systems will continue in parallel.”

He said that universal credit will reduce complexity by putting together all the benefits that are relevant to people going back to work – though benefit systems that are not relevant to the coalition’s “Work programme” will not be included in the DWP’s Universal Credit IT consolidation.

To reduce risks Universal Credit will be phased in over four years from October 2013, each stage bringing in a different group of claimants.

But …

Campaign4Change has asked the DWP to publish its various reports on the progress of Universal Credit and it has refused, even under the Freedom of Information Act. It seems the DWP’s secretiveness is partly because all of the risks related to Universal Credit have not been mitigated. We will report more on this in the next few days.

Meanwhile to try and answer the question in our headline: who’ll be responsible if Universal Credit goes wrong? The answer is: the private sector probably. Or rather nobody in the public sector.

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DWP defends £316m HP contract

By Tony Collins

The Department for Work and Pensions could lead the public sector in technical innovations. It has had some success in cutting its IT-related costs. It has also had some success so far with Universal Credit, which is based on agile principles.

It has further launched an imaginative welfare-to-work scheme , the so-called Work Programme, which seeks to get benefit claimants into jobs they keep.

Despite media criticism of the way the scheme has been set up – especially in the FT – a report by the NAO this week made it clear that the DWP has, for the most part, taken on risks that officials understand.

Some central government departments have updated business cases as they went through a major business-change programme and not submitted the final case until years into the scheme, as in parts of the NPfIT.

But the DWP has implemented the Work Programme unusually quickly, in a little more than a year, by taking sensible risks.  The NAO report on the scheme said the business case and essential justification for the Work Programme were drawn up after key decisions had already been made. But the NAO also picked out some innovations:

– some of the Work Programme is being done manually rather than rush the IT

– suppliers get paid by results, when they secure jobs that would not have occurred without their intervention. And suppliers get more money if the former claimant stays in the job.

– the scheme is cost-justified in part on the wider non-DWP societal benefits of getting the long-term unemployed into jobs such as reduced crime and improved health.

So the DWP is not frightened of innovation. But while Universal Credit and welfare-to-work scheme are centre stage, the DWP is, behind the safety curtain, awarding big old-style contracts to the same suppliers that have monopolised government IT for decades.

Rather than lead by example and change internal ways of working – and thus take Bunyan’s steep and cragged paths – the DWP is taking the easy road.

It is making sure that HP, AccentureIBM and CapGemini are safe in its hands. Indeed the DWP this week announced a £316m desktop deal with HP.  EDS, which HP acquired in 2008, has been a main DWP supplier for decades.

DWP responds to questions on £316m HP deal 

I put it to the DWP that the £316m HP deal was olde worlde, a big contract from a former era. These were its responses. Thank you to DWP press officer Sandra Roach who obtained the following responses from officials. A DWP spokesperson said:

“This new contract will deliver considerable financial savings and a range of modern technologies to support DWP’s strategic objectives and major initiatives such as Universal Credit.

“The DWP has nearly 100,000 staff, processing benefits and pensions, delivering services to 22 million people.

“DWP is on schedule to make savings of over £100m in this financial year for it’s Baseline IT operational costs, including the main IT contracts with BT and HPES [Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services].

“All contracts have benchmarking clauses to ensure best value for money in the marketplace.

“The five year contract was awarded through the Government Procurement framework and has been scrutinised to ensure value for money.”

My questions and the DWP’s answers:

Why has the DWP awarded HP a £316m contract when the coalition has a presumption against awarding contracts larger than £100m?

DWP spokesperson: “The Government IT Strategy says (page 10) ‘Where possible the Government will move away from large and expensive ICT projects, with a presumption that no project will be greater than £100m. Moving to smaller and more manageable projects will improve project delivery timelines and reduce the risk of project failure’.

“HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and DWP’s commercial and finance teams have scrutinised the DWP Desktop Service contract to ensure that it represents the most economically advantageous proposition.”

What is the role, if any for SMEs ?

DWP: “There are a number of SMEs whose products or services will form part of or contribute to the DWP Desktop Service being delivered by HP, for example ActivIdentity, Anixter, AppSense, Azlan, Click Stream, Cortado, Juniper Networks, Quest Software, Repliweb Inc, Scientific Computers Limited (SCL), Westcon etc.”

Why is there no mention of G-Cloud?

DWP: “Both the new contract and the new technical solution are constructed in such a way as to support full or partial moves to cloud services at DWP’s discretion.”


For the bulk of its IT the DWP is trapped by a legacy of complexity. It is arguably too welcoming of the safety and emollients offered by its big suppliers.

The department is not frightened by risk – hence the innovative Work Programme which the NAO is to be commended on for monitoring at an early stage of the scheme. So if the DWP is willing to take on sensible risks, why does it continue to bathe its major IT suppliers in soothingly-large payments, a tradition that dates back decades? What about G-Cloud?

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