Since July 2010, we have published eight Reports on the reforms and finances of the Department for Work & Pensions (the Department). In those Reports we have recommended consistently that the Department should allocate clear responsibility for scrutinising the progress of the Welfare Reform Programme alongside cost reductions.
Universal Credit is an important programme with cross-party support. It is a business transformation programme, which aims to provide incentives and influence behaviours to get people into work. However, the Department lacked an overarching business transformation strategy, and focused its effort on the programme's IT aspects. The failure to develop a comprehensive plan which will deliver these important changes has led to substantial nugatory expenditure which has yet to be finally determined and extensive delays in the implementation of the programme.
The Department accepts that timescales have slipped and that value has not been secured from the £425 million invested so far. There has been a shocking absence of financial and other internal controls and we are not yet convinced that the Department has robust plans to overcome the problems that have impeded progress. Our recommendations are designed to help get the programme back on track. In particular the Department needs a robust plan on how to transform its business and what is required from the new IT systems it intends to use to support the transformation. If the Department is to secure the benefits it seeks, the new IT capabilities must enable more online operations, must address fraud risks, and result in a system capable of handling the real-world complexities of claimants' circumstances. The Department must be realistic and transparent about its expected costs and timescales, and the milestones against which we can hold it to account. We believe strongly that meeting any specific timetable from now on is less important than delivering the programme successfully.