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Whitehall's ball-breaking efficiency tsar quits for a quiet life in Oz

Project manager David Pitchford throws in towel

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A high-flying Australian apparatchik who was parachuted in to save the coalition government's crisis-hit Universal Credit benefits system has quit the British civil service.

David Pitchford, head of the Major Projects Authority, had a formidable reputation as a Whitehall fixer-upper, tasked with troubleshooting big ticket government projects and making sure they were actually completed vaguely on time and budget.

His decision to ditch the £200,000-a-year role and return home to Australia is down to undisclosed family reasons, yet it is likely that his relentless pursuit of efficiencies will have made him many enemies in the back offices of power. It is not yet known who will replace him as Whitehall's delivery guru.

Pitchford recently took on the unenviable task of overseeing Iain Duncan Smith's Universal Credit system, which is universally loathed and has been beset by IT difficulties. His secondment from the MPA begun earlier this year after the death of Philip Langsdale, former chief information officer at the Department of Work and Pensions. He then replaced the Universal Credit project director Hilary Reynolds, who served just four months in the job. Pitchford will continue to look after the project until a month before the roll-out.

Although the DWP was quick to say that he was not there to save the £500million one-dole-to-rule-them-all scheme, his appointment was widely seen as a last ditch rescue attempt.

The web-based Universal Credit system has experienced multiple difficulties, with questions over whether the new system would lead to fraud and allegations circulating that IT workers had downed tools and given up on the project.

The credit system will begin to roll out in October and is designed to replace a number of different benefits.

After overseeing four "pathfinder" pilot projects in the north of England, Pitchford returned to the MPA in May, where he masterminded the release of a report which said that one in six government projects were off-track and at risk of failure. This report examined over 191 government schemes worth a total of £350bn, including HS2, the high-speed broadband rollout and eight major IT projects to decide which were in trouble.

Pitchford's involvement in helping the delivery of these schemes is claimed to have saved the government £1.7bn last year. Since the risk report was published, the number of project given a "green light" rating, which indicates everything is fine, has doubled.

Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “David has led the Major Projects Authority brilliantly, and has been a major player in the Efficiency and Reform Group’s top team, which is working to transform Whitehall and save the taxpayer billions."

Maude was particularly delighted about the MPA's first-ever risk report.

He added: "The Authority’s first annual report was a watershed moment. For the first time ever we disclosed an honest appraisal rating for each one of the Government’s major projects. This transparency will help further drive up standards, ensuring the billions of pounds that we spend on projects are properly focused. And besides all of this, I will much miss David’s sharp wit and impressive leadership. I wish him all the best for the future.”

Pitchford tendered his resignation today and will work until September, one month before the Universal Credit rollout begins.

Did you work with Pitchford or have you had something to do with the Universal Credit? Contact us in confidence and tell us what life's really like in Whitehall. ®

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