This morning the Public Accounts Committee has published a withering report on the management of Universal Credit. They comment on the ‘extraordinarily poor’ management, the defensive mentality, lack of financial controls and the weakness of the pilots, which are not designed to deliver the information or methods that the project will need. None of that should come as a surprise, because the problems have been widely reported for over a year. The PAC report notes (para 6) that the DWP first became aware of problems with the programme in July 2012. That cannot be true. The Telegraph reported on 25th September 2011 that the Treasury had been warned of the coming problems, and that a team had been set up to deal with them; the DWP issued a statement that the rumours were “completely untrue and utterly without foundation”, but you cannot deny something without being aware that people are saying it. The first delays in the timetable for the pilots were announced in June 2012, which suggests that the DWP had already been grappling with the problems of implementation before that.
Universal Credit is still described as having cross-party support, which is disappointing: one wonders how many problems have to emerge before people realise that a scheme is not going to work. It’s tempting for politicians to say that the idea is good in principle but that it’s been implemented badly. That’s not the problem here; the scheme has been impractical from the outset (I said so on this blog in October 2010). The problems, the administrative turmoil and the bluster have burgeoned as a succession of different teams have realised the impossibility of the task they have been set.