Government descends into inter-departmental squabbling over Universal Credit

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It seems there has been an argument between Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP and Francis Maude’s Cabinet Office, and now the much-troubled Universal Credit project has no IT experts working on it.

Good. It’s a terrible idea, designed to remove money from the people who need it most.

The project aims to update benefit claimants’ entitlements in ‘real time’, ensuring that they only ever receive what government regulations say they should. Sadly, there is no commitment to update the entitlement amounts in ‘real time’, so people will always be getting less than they need, as inflation boosts prices beyond their range.

Minutes of a Universal Credit ‘board meeting’, leaked to The Guardian, show that IT experts from the Cabinet Office are pulling out of the project and the DWP must now search for somebody else with the skills needed to take on the work.

This means more delays and an even greater cost. This is unlikely to bother Iain Duncan Smith, who sees the project as his legacy to the nation and will pay any amount to see it through – in sharp contrast to his attitude towards the benefit claimants for whose livelihoods his department is responsible.

It seems the argument arose because of Mr… Smith’s vanity – he insisted on a “twin-track” approach to the project, keeping current work going in order to make it possible for claimants to use Universal Credit before the 2015 election while also funnelling money and time into a purely web-based system that will not require Job Centre staff to fill in claimants’ details. One may presume that he will happily sack the excess Job Centre staff after that system is complete.

Those on the current version will be tranferred onto the digital system when it is ready, we are told.

A separately-leaked document made it clear that the withdrawal of the Cabinet Office expertise is one of the most serious problems facing the project because the DWP will now have to try to find people with the necessary skills in the market, and may not be able to afford the cost.

It is interesting that this document is a risk assessment. Does anybody remember the furore over the NHS risk assessment, when the Health and Social Care Act was working its way through Parliament like an unhappy bowel movement? Even though these documents are almost always publicly available, that one was jealously guarded by Andrew Lansley and still has not seen the light of day.

Of course the different government departments are claiming that nothing is wrong and all is going according to plan, and this might be true – if we’re discussing the kind of plan that changes with the wind.

Meanwhile, Universal Credit is increasingly becoming a symbol of the government creating it – not only is it monstrously expensive but it also doesn’t work.

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15 thoughts on “Government descends into inter-departmental squabbling over Universal Credit

  1. Big Bill

    Cost will kill this stone dead. Every IT professional in the land now knows IDS will pay God’s own wages purely to try to save his own political career. How cheap would you work if you knew any price asked would be paid? They’ve finished this now. There’s Osborne publicly talking about necessary cuts to welfare and there’s IDS pushing the bill for his vanity project through the stratosphere. This won’t be allowed to go on.

    1. Simon

      Ending the career of the universal failure Iain Duncan Smith is the best reason I can think of for voting Labour at the next general election. The trouble is that Labour still supports Universal Credit “in principle”. Surely the world and his wife realised long ago that Universal Credit was and will always be unworkable and impossible. So the question has to be: What’s up with the Labour Party?

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  3. Jonathan Wilson

    The way I’ve read the various reports and postings/musings is that the CO (cabinet office) brought in the “emergency team; in-house computer bods” after various private sector contractors either downed tools, quit the contracts, or demanded more money as the initial contracts were well under specified in both physical and personnel costs as the specifications were lacking in all areas as some clever snake oil sales person (A computer constaltant, usual “big outsourcing company”) sold them “agile” as the be all and end all (laughs).

    More specifically; the whole “agile” meme was a total nightmare as the more detailed functional requirements, which had to be correct first time (for the base core OLTP system) were incorrect (hence most of the software write off) as far to much time and resources had been loaded onto the “fancy visual bits” and web systems (again under specified due to not being “web pages” as most would understand them, but front loaded web based applications talking to back end databases, which were lacking in the data specifications due to the fact that agile was taken to mean “can fix any problems on the fly” when in reality if the back end database OLTP system is incorrect in any major way means a total re-write of both back end and front end systems… hence the write off of both hardware and even more additional software costs.

    I get the feeling that the CO in-house team have seen the writing on the wall after spending a number of months reviewing the code/systems processes already done, namely that none of it is fit for purpose… not only that its been so badly specified that nothing can be done as the core OLTP is no where near enough to the realities of all possible current requirements, and as yet to be specified requirements (such as, oh I don’t know… a couple, with kids!) which means the core system is not up to scratch and when this is applied it will require an almost total re-write yet again to implement it into the currently designed core system (single people, nothing else, nada) as the additional data cannot be easily linked (requires a whole new set of key(ing) data that should have been entered in the initial system, with no way to automate its update) and because of its lack of “what if, how do we, should we do this now because it will be needed later?” the system is a great big POS.

    When you consider that the local council have a codified book that details all the “what if’s” on council tax and housing benefit alone that is over an inch thick and then further consider all the other minutiae of “if/then/else” of the other various benefits to be rolled into one system, and their impact on each other… then add in “real time processing” of peoples payslips and god knows what else, every week or month or fortnight depending on who people get paid, then kick out 1 payment every calender month… will it ever work?

    There is a reason why HMRC does its “self employed” every quarter! and, potentially, takes ages to report back any adjustments so most people work it out and keep the money “just in case” they get it wrong… now imagine working on a zero contract, to be told three months after your last job, on 71 quid a week…. “oh we cocked up, you owe us 300 quid over pay, we will just take it out of your next monthly payment… what that leaves you with nothing? not our problem, tis the law don’tcha know”

    Another issue that I think the CO has seen is that introducing a third thread in the development (there is currently 2… UC-approx 2.2 billion + current systems (duplication of jobs/work/on going support for existing systems) and it jumps to 12+billion http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240185166/Universal-Credit-will-cost-taxpayers-128bn ) so a third thread with a supposed merging “some time down the road” is likely to increase the costs… at a guess probably a doubling of the UC costs… say 4.4billion, and likely increased costs for existing systems as people move across to “UC thread 2” meaning existing systems programmers (legacy and UC thread 1) will command a premium.. rough guess, keeping the legacy systems running until every one is transfered could see the 10billion guestimate double… say around 20-30 billion all in by 2017…

    Oh but wait! They forgot… not everyone will be on it by 2017… a large section of the disabled will still be on legacy support after 2017… no doubt a re-write will then be needed again to include core data that someone forgot in the initial system so its not easy to link them in…

    KERCHING! Qadruples all around for “private sector” while blaming the civil service departments.

    1. Mark

      I’m in awe at the level of detail in your comment. The previous system and its many variables still needs to be processed in the new system on some computational level I would have thought. I think partway through your comment that is what you were saying.

      But largely, there is a tremendous incongruence between previously estimated figures and figures that are beginning to emerge as a ramification of Ian Duncan Smith’s cognitive shortcomings.

      1. Jonathan Wilson

        Exactly… even if UC gets up and running it has to do everything that all the various benefits currently do, but on one “integrated” system… even if it were to use multiple servers with split databases (ie, server 1 does A-D’s (name beginning) and so on) or some other partitioning scheme…

        It has to do the work of 326 councils (even discounting some shared back office systems/OLTP databases between them thats 326 dedicated computer systems!) for “housing benefit” alone storing every payslip/customer query/letter generated and so on. Not forgetting councils take between 1-4 weeks on average to calculate HB for a multitude of differences, Low income/Non-dependent deductions/etc. and have the advantage of “face to face” should problems arise and councils will still have to do all the processing for council tax that was done in tandem with HB.

        Not only will you have to deal with a faceless entity and computer system when it screws up your HB/JSA/etc. via UC, you will still have to wander down to the local council office to give the very same details all over again so your council tax can be calculated… so even if UC ever comes in, councils will have to do just as much work as they ever did in data capture/letters/awards/etc; just they wont do the HB side… so UC will overall cost more money as it will cause a duplication of the data capture/processing/storage at both the council and also the DWP…. at least with the existing system if its screwed you can go down to the council, make a fuss, and get it sorted including the council letting the HA/PRS landlord that its “in progress.” The DWP on the other hand, as its paying you directly, will say its none of its business deal with it yourself, we might get it sorted in a few weeks…

        Also consider that every non working, low paid, disabled, sick, people with children, and god knows how many others will be processed every month, by some computer system somewhere in the uk and the potential for utter devastation is huge… add in the fact that a JSA suspension/ESA “fit for work” or some other kind of change will impact on all your benefits; Initial benefit/HB/Child Benefit/WFTC/Etc. and it doesn’t bare thinking about… and when it goes wrong, your only contact is 0845DWP.

        At least with how things currently stand, if your JSA is screwed you still get your CB/WFTC/HB/Etc. or any other combination of 1 benefit in error, the rest still progress as before…. one mistake by the DWP and you loose the lot under UC.

        Now also take into account a few million people in work, but now under “UC…” some work variable hours/zero contract, your company is a bit late in doing the weekly transfer to the DWP/HMRC “real time system” so your wage amounts are missing and the monthly (circa 2-8 million) batch run is started with this data missing, so assumes you earned nothing so gives you more money for HB for that week, 3 weeks later when the monthly run is done it sees the missing wage, re-calculates and decides to withhold a portion of the HB to claw back the over payment, only problem is that in the same month you were on short weeks as there was little work at the company… now what? You’re screwed!

        The current separate systems (JSA=computer 1; HB=Computer 2 (* 326); Child benefit=computer 3; WFTC=computer 4; IS=computer 5; ESA=computer 6; etc.) means the system is resilient… but some operator makes a mistake and loads the wrong tape with UC and the whole thing is dead… all of it… millions of people with no money at all!

        I personally think that last paragraph alone should have been enough of a reason for discounting the idea of a combined real time update, merging of multiple systems into one god almighty all singing and dancing UC system, period! That very real risk far outweighs any minuscule potential saving.

  4. Joseph Smith

    Is that the same Ian Duncan Smith the lying fraudster we love to hate? The one who’s legacy will be that of an out break of pox.

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  6. Joseph Smith

    I’ve just read the fourteen signs of encroaching Fascism, scared me quite a lot. I read each one trying to understand more clearly what each sign related to and meant to us in the times in which we currently live.

    This is my analysis

    The Coalition clearly demonstrates between ten and eleven of the signs which indicate an ominous Fascist trend. An 85% trend

    Ian Duncan Smith demonstrates twelve of the signs which indicate he is a Fascist that’s a 90% hit that’s not a trend that’s proof.
    Obviously, this is my opinion and not scientific, but I’ll bet a fiver to a pinch of poodle crap he is.
    There is a worrying trend in the coalition apart from the lies bully boy tactics, the continued attack on those unable to protect themselves, the marginalisation of large sections of our society, the brutal decimation of our armed forces and the unfair treatment meted out to them linked to controls. The attempts to control the media.
    This folks is the embryo of Fascism we need to stop it dead by getting rid of the coalition.

  7. jeffrey davies

    ids just like carney in the bank fiddling the figures lying outright all is well when their ship is sinking fast with the it rats leaving first ops osbornes bubble housing that is well lets c

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