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Universal Discredit: Gov admits Treasury HASN'T signed off biz case

Iain Duncan Smith's welfare IT reform plan looks doomed

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Iain Duncan Smith's Department for Work and Pensions scrambled to dismiss comments made by the government's head of the civil service late on Monday, after Sir Bob Kerslake told MPs that the Treasury had yet to make the business case for the widely derided Universal Credit programme.

The chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Labour politico Margaret Hodge, characterised the latest derailing of Duncan Smith's plan to overhaul the claimant system for British citizens as "chaos", after permanent secretaries confessed that the scheme was turning smelly at Number 11.

"We shouldn't beat about the bush. It hasn't been signed off," Kerslake told the panel.

"What we've had is a set of conditional assurances about progress and the Treasury has released money accordingly and that's one of the key controls they have," he added.

The DWP, when asked by The Register to explain the latest setback for the department, told us:

Universal Credit is on track to roll out safely and securely against the plan set out last year - the new service now available in 24 Jobcentres, and last week expanded to claims from couples.

The Treasury has been fully engaged in the roll-out plan and have approved all funding to date.

That statement reflects comments made in the House of Commons earlier on Monday by Treasury financial secretary and Tory MP Nicky Morgan.

"The Treasury have approved funding for the Universal Credit programme in 2013-14 and 2014-15, in line with the ministerial announcement," She told Parliament.

"The roll out of Universal Credit continues in a progressive approach, with the live service expanding to couples and the north-west of England and then to families. The government continues to roll out the service in a controlled manner in order to assess how claimants are responding, and to inform development of the enhanced digital solution."

But Whitehall appeared to have been caught out by Kerslake's unguarded remark to the PAC yesterday afternoon.

Following the hearing, Labour MP Stephen Timms asked work and pensions minister Esther McVey to clarify the civil service head's comment.

"I will look into that additional point and get back to the right honourable gentleman," was McVey's response.

Kerslake's confession comes after the government's Major Projects Authority said that the massively troubled Universal Credit system was no longer worthy of being flagged with a "red" warning because its blunder-prone implementation was in such a sorry state. ®

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