Universal Credit Project Assessment Reviews Contents

2The reviews

What is a Project Assessment Review?

8.The IPA, a partnership between the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, is responsible for the oversight of major central government projects.18 PARs are based on three to ten days of interviews and a review of documentation.19 Their reports inform meetings of the Major Projects Review Group (MPRG). The MPRG, which is co-chaired by the Chief Executive of the Civil Service and the Second Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, scrutinises major projects and assesses their deliverability, affordability and value for money.20 The MPRG considers the health of programmes at points where the Treasury is required to approve funding,21 or when it has concerns about progress.22 PARs and other IPA reports are, however, regularly commissioned at other times.

9.Alongside the PARs, the Committee has been sent three Health Checks (HCs) and two Assurance of Action Plans (AAPs). HCs typically have narrower scopes than PARs and monitor performance against previous IPA recommendations. AAPs are short follow-up reviews, typically conducted shortly after a poor report, to consider whether subsequent action has made delivery of the programme more likely.23 The scope of each review is agreed between the IPA review team and the departmental project team at a planning meeting.24 The ten reports we were sent were each commissioned jointly by the Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) of UC, the official personally responsible for delivering the programme, and the Treasury.25

What is, and is not, in the reviews

10.The reviews are written in dense project management speak, a combination of the cryptic and the clichéd. The May 2012 PAR explained:

The review team understand that the recently agreed elaboration process was undertaken with a view to ensuring a safe-landing of delivery of the pathfinder and the October 2013 go live by drawing clear boundaries around the level of automation required in the earlier stage of implementation.26

The April 2015 HC said the MPA review team had “attended four developer ‘stand ups’, a scrum of scrums, a priority stand-up and a ‘Show and Tell’”.27 The September 2015 PAR noted that “the line through from the operational cost burners held by Transformation Planning Group, through to epic level stories, story groups, stories and then through to the delivery of those stories is open and well documented”. The team had, however, “not fully matured its ability to accurately size incoming stories”.28 The PARs are no loss to the canon of published prose.

11.The IPA reviews have restricted terms of reference. Their UC reports provide assurance about the finances and delivery of the programme, subject to a scope agreed by the DWP programme team. The overwhelming majority of interviewees were civil servants from DWP and others most closely involved in UC. The reports do not examine Government policy or the consequences for claimants. They do not, for example, include a single statistic of whether people were receiving their payments on time.

18 IPA, Project assessment review guidance and templates, v1, August 2016. A major project is one which requires Treasury approval for funding or is otherwise of special interest to the Government.

21 The Treasury approval points are Strategic Outline Business Case, Outline Business Case and Full Business Case stage.

23 IPA, Assurance of Action Plan (AAP), v2.0, December 2016

25 Information provided by the IPA. The full responsibilities of the SRO are set out in a letter from the Permanent Secretary to the SRO, 24 March 2015.

26 IPA, UC Project Assessment Review, March 2012, para 5.20

27 IPA, UC Health Check, April 2015, p4

28 IPA, UC Project Assessment Review, October 2015, p14

29 January 2018