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140309sundaypolitics

It is a testament to the ineptitude of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain ‘Sunken’ Smith that his flagship scheme has been sent back to square one – listed as “reset” by the government organisation responsible for grading its progress.

Mr… Smith (otherwise known as RTU or Returned To Unit, in tribute to a lifetime of failure) is determined that Universal Credit – which rolls all the major benefits into a single payment which the government can manipulate to make life extremely uncomfortable for claimants – will be his legacy; the achievement that marks him out for posterity.

Well, it will certainly remind us all of the man’s nature. Universal Credit has been beset with one false start after another and remains capable of handling only the simplest of tasks while promising miracles – and when it fails to deliver, its faults are explained away with implausible excuses.

The latest is that the Major Projects Authority (MPA) assessed the project last September and its judgement is out-of-date because there has been progress in implementing the scheme through pilot projects in Job Centres.

That seems about as plausible as RTU’s claim that the scheme has not written OFF £140 million of taxpayers’ money; instead the cash has been written down (meaning, it seems, that the value of the investment has been downgraded in the same way your computer is worth less now than the amount you paid for it – “the amortisation of cost over a period of time”). That’s not an acceptable answer as the money has still been spent.

Alternatively, you may wish to consider cabinet colleague Francis Maude’s claim that UC implementation has been “pretty lamentable”. The Secretary-in-a-State said this was a reference to a time before he made emergency changes to the project; changes that he did not mention to anybody – even the Commons Work and Pensions select committee, when it was investigating the project, maintaining that all was well.

In fact, this latest excuse is also among the oldest in Mr… Smith’s arsenal; it was used last year in response to the rating UC had received at the time.

The MPA rates major schemes according to a ‘traffic light’ system – green, amber or red. Universal Credit was previously marked as amber/red, meaning it was in danger of failure.

The organisation’s new report, released yesterday (Friday), possibly in an attempt to bury bad news, states: “This time last year, we rated 31 projects red or amber/red. Of these 31 projects, more than half did better this year and only one has got worse.”

You won’t get any prizes for guessing which one!

The bad news is that, despite everything, Universal Credit remains an ongoing project and will therefore continue to haemorrhage taxpayers’ pounds – that’s your hard-earned shekels – by the million.

The good news is that we can look forward to more media humiliation for Smith himself.

The man has caused more misery than anybody since Margaret Thatcher; it is right that he should face a little suffering of his own.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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