War of Words on Universal Credit

The National Audit Office has given IDS’s flagship Universal Credit policy two barrels this morning. It concludes that £34 million has been wasted so far due to ‘weak management and poor governance’. Liam Byrne managed to get his embargoed two cents out before the rumours spread of an imminent Labour reshuffle:

“The truth is finally out. Universal Credit is a titanic-sized IT disaster which Iain Duncan Smith has tried to hide with cover up after cover up. Mr Duncan Smith swore blind this benefit shake-up was fine. Now we learn he has completely lost control of his department at a potential cost of hundreds of millions of pounds.  It is now mission critical that David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith swallow their pride and agree to the cross party talks we proposed in the summer. We cannot risk another day.”

A DWP source hits back, telling Guido:

“Byrne’s offer of cross party talks is laughable. After Labour’s tax credits fiasco £2.8bn of taxpayers money was written off and £13bn for their NHS IT system. I really don’t think we need Labour’s help or advice. The point is Iain has actually learnt from Labour’s mistakes and he is prepared to be flexible and change timetables along the way – even though that means Labour will go to the papers to carp about ‘delays’. Surely doggedly sticking to the exact same path you set out on 3 years ago in a bid to avoid tough decisions and negative headlines is the wrong thing to do and he should be applauded for doing the right thing?”

Sources claim that though there have been problems with Universal Credit, especially given its scale, the report is historic and does not suggest that these are problems happening any more. ‘Nowhere in the report does it say we’ll not meet our 2017 end point. That is what we’re working to and we’re still very much within budget.’ As Byrne and IDS square up the blame game shifts elsewhere. Guido understands that IDS himself had to launch his own investigation into Universal Credit after he suspected the civil service were not giving him the whole picture. It’s going to be a very rocky ride for DWP Permanent Secretary Robert Devereux when he faces the Public Accounts Committee next week…




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