Universal Credit’s leader Shiplee admits to poor project management, a lack of transparency and inadequate supplier management
The man in overall charge of Universal Credit has come clean on some of the problems facing the project.
Howard Shiplee’s article, published in The Daily Telegraph, coincides with the publication of a National Audit Office report into Universal Credit later this week, which is likely to give a detailed description of the project’s challenges.
Shiplee’s article explains that he was set a clear challenge by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) secretary Iain Duncan Smith to get Universal Credit "ready to roll out and do it safely."
He said, "The team working on the programme – which will merge six benefits into one and ensure it always pays to work – is incredibly dedicated. The people on the ground working day to day at Jobcentre Plus are excellent at their jobs."
However, he added, "But it’s also clear to me there were examples of poor project management in the past, a lack of transparency where the focus was too much on what was going well and not enough on what wasn’t and with suppliers not managed as they should have been. There is no doubt there have been missteps along the way." But, he says, "We’ve put that right."
Shiplee admitted that the death last Christmas of the former head of Universal Credit, Philip Langsdale, had "dealt the programme a substantial blow."
He went on, "I’m not in the business of making excuses, and I think it’s always important to acknowledge in any project where things may have gone wrong in order to ensure we learn as we go forward.
"To that end, the key decision taken by the Secretary of State to reset the programme to ensure its delivery on time and within budget has been critical. When David Pitchford arrived from the Major Projects Authority earlier this year, at the Secretary of State’s request, he began this process in line with those twin objectives.
"Since then, I have pushed ahead building on David’s early progress, reviewing our delivery plans, and ensuring that we have a plan in place that is achievable and safe. Through new processes and people, we have strengthened all the basics of sound project management – governance, leadership and financial management. This includes establishing a clear plan for delivery and introducing more independent oversight, so the big challenges are tackled not sidestepped. "
Shiplee added that he has put in place a post for a new Director "who will be dedicated to ensuring that suppliers deliver value for money. "
According to Shiplee, the Universal Credit team is working together with the Government Digital Service "to explore an enhanced IT programme that would offer more flexibility and security to benefit claimants. We’re planning to take the best of the existing system and make improvements using GDS support."
He added, "But too many people think Universal Credit is just about IT. That’s a big mistake. This is about changing the way we do business – and changing people’s behaviour by ensuring there is always an incentive to be in work. So while the enhanced IT option – which will help us deliver this change – is being finalised, we will press ahead with rolling out the cultural elements of Universal Credit to support this transformation."