A committee of MPs have criticised the government’s welfare reform saying it has been “extraordinarily poor” and almost £425m is likely to be written off.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee has said that the oversight of the Universal Credit scheme had been “alarmingly weak”. Warning signs have been missed and a “fortress culture” has been claimed among officials.
Criticisms by the cross-party committee echo those by the National Audit Office who have said that the management of the £2.4bn project had been weak and financial controls had been inefficient, reports the BBC.
Ministers still insist that the plan is back on track after its “reset” at the beginning of the year. However the committee said that the project had been beset by a string of problems and is still facing considerable challenges if it wants to achieve its long-term objectives.
£4425m spent up to April, which was mainly on computer software and IT systems, is unlikely to have any worth in the future and its value will likely be written off.
“Universal Credit is the Department for Work and Pensions’ single biggest programme and enjoys cross-party support yet its implementation has been extraordinarily poor,” Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who chairs the body, said. “The failure to develop a comprehensive plan has led to extensive delay and the waste of a yet to be determined amount of public money. Pressure to deliver a programme of this magnitude within such an ambitious timescale created a fortress culture where only good news was reported and problems were denied.”
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary is still insistent that Universal Credit can still be rolled out to both new and existing claimants by 2017.
The committee has said that the pilots conducted to date have been unsatisfactory and the target to enrol 184,000 new claimants on to the single benefit by next April would be missed.
“The department will have to speed up the later stages of the programme if it is to meet the 2017 completion date but that will pose new risks,” Mrs Hodge added, urging the government not to throw “good money after bad. We believe strongly that meeting any specific timetable from now on is less important than delivering the programme successfully.”
A spokesman for Mr Duncan Smith said he had “every confidence” in the team now running the programme. “Both the National Audit Office and the public accounts committee acknowledged a fortress mentality within the Universal Credit programme,” he said. “Iain was clear back in the summer about how he and the permanent secretary took action to fix those problems.”
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