5 DWP's cooperation with the scrutiny
DWP announcements on UC
61. As we have noted, we had arranged for the Secretary
of State to provide oral evidence to us on Universal Credit on
10 July 2013, to follow up the findings in our 2012 report. At
the start of the oral evidence session the Secretary of State
announced significant changes to the UC timetable. We were not
provided with any indication in advance of the session of the
scope of this announcement.
62. A similar issue arose in December 2013. The Secretary
of State had a very long-standing invitation to give oral evidence
to us on 9 December 2013 on the delayed Departmental Annual Report
and Accounts (ARA). As we have noted, we had made it clear from
the outset that this session would focus mainly on Universal Credit
implementation but it was not until 5 December, two working days
before the date of the evidence session, that DWP made public
its plans for further changes to UC implementation.
On both occasions, DWP's decision to make these major announcements
at or just before our evidence sessions gave us insufficient time
to take account of their implications before questioning Ministers.
63. The Secretary of State had also given an undertaking
that the ARA would be published in advance of the oral evidence
session on 9 December. In the event, it was not published until
the day after the session. This meant that we did not have access
to the Report on the Accounts from the C&AG, which commented
on DWP's treatment of the UC IT expenditure and the future development
of the programme.The Secretary of State provided the basic facts
about the level of the write-off of IT expenditure in a letter
to the Chair received on the day of the session, but it would
have been far more helpful for us to have had access to the C&AG's
Report before we questioned DWP witnesses.
Timeliness of provision of information
to the Committee
64. Further and more detailed information about the
scale of the problems experienced with UC during 2012-13 emerged
during the evidence session in December 2013. DWP witnesses referred
many times to DWP's "red team" reviews of the UC programme
in mid-2012, and the plans for "resetting" UC implementation
which had been made by May 2013.
65. However, neither the reviews nor thereset plans
had been mentioned, when DWP witnesses gave oral evidence in July
2013, as the reasons for the slowing down of implementation. Nor
had any indication been given then of the scale of the problems
with UC nor the serious concerns which had existed from 2012 within
DWP, the Cabinet Office and the Major Projects Authority about
UC IT. Indeed, Howard Shiplee told us in July 2013 that "the
pathfinder [...] has demonstrated that the IT systems work".
He denied that there were problems with the IT and that a new
system would be needed, although he did also make clear that DWP
was reviewing all the existing IT.
66. The Secretary of State acknowledged in December
that he had had concerns as far back as "2011/12" about
the UC IT and the digital by default approach. He said that this
was why he had commissioned the DWP internal reviews in the summer
of 2012 and that the introduction of the Pathfinder came about
"on the back of my decision to reset" and as a result
of the realisation that the IT systems needed more testing.
67. However, there was no mention of these concerns
or the remedial action taken when the Secretary of State gave
oral evidence to our original inquiry into Universal Credit implementation
in September 2012. Universal Credit was also extensively discussed
with the Permanent Secretary at the end of October 2012, when
he gave evidence on the DWP Annual Report 2011-12. Again, there
was no mention of concerns about progress with implementation
or changes to the plans.However,
when the Permanent Secretary gave oral evidence to the PAC on
UC in September 2013, he said that he knew in July 2012 that he
had "an unresolvable problem on which management action had
to be taken" in relation to UC.
68. The Department missed a further opportunity to
bring these matters to our attention when it published its response
to our Universal Credit report in February 2013. Our report had
specifically noted that the implementation timetable for UC might
need to be slowed but the Government chose not to comment on this
in its response.
However, in the oral evidence sessions in July and December 2013,
the Secretary of State referred back to the comments in that report.
He said that the changes to the implementation timetable were
"hugely centred" on our advice about the need to avoid
"artificial timetables" and to ensure that the DWP did
not"just steamroll ahead".
69. During the February 2014 evidence session, we
challenged the Secretary of State about this apparent lack of
disclosure of key information about the problems DWP was encountering.
His view was that:
I do not have to tell the Committee everything
that is happening in the Department until we have reached a conclusion
about what is actually happening. I will take those decisions
myself and account for the decisions that were taken, and I have
He also said that "I do not think this Committee
can run the Department".
70. When we questioned him in February 2014 specifically
on the reasons for not telling us about the DWP's red team review
of the UC programme at the July 2013 evidence session, the Secretary
of State said that this was because "it was an internal review
and we were looking at the results of that and trying to make
whatever decisions were necessary to reshape and to get this focused."
We asked the Secretary of State why he had not been more frank
with us about the scale of the problems in July 2013, when he
must have known that they would be revealed in the NAO report
to be published shortly afterwards.He said: "I am not in
a position to talk to the Committee about stuff that the NAO are
looking into and doing at the time. It is for them to make that
Lord Freud argued that "We gave a very clear picture of what
was happening to this Committee in July".
71. Effective scrutiny by select committees relies
on government departments providing them with accurate, timely
and detailed information. This has not always happened to date
in relation to our scrutiny of the problems with Universal Credit
implementation. It is not acceptable for Ministers to provide
information about changes to major policy implementation to this
Committee, and indeed to Parliament and the public more broadly,
only when forced to do so by the imminent prospect of being held
to account in a public oral evidence session. We recommend that,
in response to this Report, DWP sets out how it will improve the
frankness, accuracy and timeliness of the information it provides
to us, to ensure that it meets the required levels of transparency
between the Government and select committees, and that we are
not hampered in trying to carry out our formal scrutiny role effectively.
Provision of information to the
72. Ensuring the provision of accurate and detailed
information about progress with UC implementation to the general
public is also very important. In March 2014, the Information
Rights First-tier Tribunal ruled on a Freedom of Information case
brought to the Information Commissioner, requesting the public
release by DWP of technical documents relating to the UC programme,
including the Gateway Reviews, the Risk Register, the Issues Register
and the High Level Milestone Schedule.
73. This was a complex case, but in deciding in favour
of the documents being released, the Tribunal stated that "the
shaping and implementation of this reform [Universal Credit] are
matters of the very highest importance and public interest".
The Tribunal decision referred to "the very great costs involved"
in the programme and went on to say: "there is a particularly
strong public interest in up to date information as to the details
of what is happening within the programme, so that the public
may judge whether or not opposition and media criticism is well-founded."
65 Oral evidence taken on 10 July 2013; see also HC
Deb, 10 July 2013, cols 21-22 WS; and DWP press release, 10 July
2013, "Universal Credit: Roll out from October 2013".
HC Deb, 5 December 2013, cols 65-66WS; see also DWP written evidence,
5 December 2013 and oral evidence taken on 9 December 2013, HC
Letter to the Chair from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions,
9 December 2013 Back
Oral evidence taken on 3 February 2014. See Qq33-34; 62; 77-80;
82-83; 85-86; and 89-90. The "red team reviews" were
DWP internal reviews of the UC programme undertaken at the request
of the Secretary of State in 2012; the "reset" was the
major adjustment to the programme which took place in February
to May 2013, in response to the red team reviews and concerns
raised by the MPA. See NAO report, Figures 7,17 and 23 for further
Oral evidence takenon 10 July 2013, Qq16 and 70 Back
Oral evidence taken on 9 December 2013, Qq33 and 56 Back
Oral evidence taken on 29 October 2012, HC (2010-12) 703 Back
Oral evidence taken by the Public Accounts Committee on 11 September
2014. See Thirtieth Report of Session 2013-14, Universal Credit: early progress,
HC 619, November 2013, Q89 Back
DWP, Government Response to the Committee's Third Report of session
2012-13, on Universal Credit implementation: meeting the needs
of vulnerable claimants, Cm 8537 Back
Oral evidence taken on 9 December 2013, Q53 and Oral evidence takenon 10 July 2013,
Oral evidence taken on 3 February 2014, Qq141 and 145 Back
Oral evidence taken on 3 February 2014, Q140 Back
Oral evidence taken on 3 February 2014, Q150 Back
Oral evidence taken on 9 December 2013, Q85 Back
Information Rights First-tier Tribunal ruling, March 2014, Appeal
Nos: EA/2013/0145, 148 & 149, paras 14, 56-57 Back