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Car-crash IT: HUGE write-off for Universal Credit - PAC

Just £34m re-usable from £600m. It's not a shambles, insists DWP man

Just £34m of IT investment will be re-usable from more than £600m spent on the Universal Credit car-crash IT programme "if" a digital version of the system ever arrives, a Public Accounts Committee hearing has indicated.

"The truth is of what we've invested in live, only £34m will go over to digital," said PAC chair Margaret Hodge.

Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), denied this could amount to a write off, claiming the system will save billions for the tax payer.

The committee also heard the project has again been flagged as "high risk" by the Major Projects Authority - just six months after the MPA revealed the entire project has been reset.

Brian Wernham, author of Agile Project Management for government, said: "The biggest surprise was the Treasury revealed the project has been assessed again and has been rated amber-red," he said. "This is after it had been given a clean sheet of paper."

So far just 18,000 people are on Universal Credit. The figure was originally supposed to be two million by this point.

"If we are lucky we have just a couple of per cent using it," said Hodge.

But Devereux said he did "not accept" the system was a shambles. "£2bn in savings for the taxpayer, is that a shambles?"

Hodge replied s the current number of people using the system does not amount to a successful sign of his tenure at the DWP.

The NAO found that 37 per cent of users will not be able to access universal credit digitally - the programme originally intended a digital service for all users.

This now means that the average cost per case has increased 25 per cent to £230, found the NAO.

Sharon White, second permanent secretary at the Treasury, said there would be no final business case approval of the system until after the general election.

Last week the Office for Budgetary Responsibility said of Universal Credit: "[T]here remains considerable uncertainty around the delivery of such a complex and wide-ranging change."

During the PAC hearing Hodge cited a valedictory speech by former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake, who in September described the timescales of Universal Credit as "undeliverable", something that was not recognised in time due to the "prevailing culture of deference within the civil service." ®

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