Universal Credit

Part of Estimates 2014-15 — Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 7:27 pm on 7th July 2014.

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Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South 7:27 pm, 7th July 2014

It is always a pleasure to follow Sheila Gilmore. This is the second time in a week that we have had the opportunity to debate universal credit. I will focus my brief remarks on some of the comments made by Labour Members, which I think can be characterised thus: “We are doing our job. If only the Secretary of State would do his job, everything would be okay.”

I had thought that it was agreed that universal credit is a much-needed project. It is a project of national significance. I think that it is analogous to the Olympics, but in fact harder to deliver. Opposition Front Benchers might give that some thought when considering how to conduct themselves in this debate. The project might be harder to deliver than the Olympics, but it is as important to our country. I will comment on the progress and some of the issues around that, and also talk at some length about Labour’s four-point plan—it has now been published—to “save” the programme, and a rattling good yarn it is too. I will not repeat the remarks of my hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris, but the project is a national imperative. We are trying to make work pay, to streamline benefits and to mimic the whole process of transition to work.

Developing a set of IT applications to be used by 8 million users is quite difficult. Frankly, neither political party has shown a great deal of success in doing that over the past decade or so. If we accept that it is a hard thing to do, then perhaps Members might try to do a little more than they have today in getting behind the 1,000 or 2,000 people who are working on the programme —working weekends and doing the stuff that needs to be done to get this to happen.

Are there problems with this project? I do not know; I am not an expert on it. I hate to say this, but I do not even serve on the Select Committee. Perhaps I am here as an imposter. I have had some experience of IT. I have spent a large part of my life explaining to people why IT projects are late and why it is not my fault but somebody else’s—I got quite good at that by the end. During a quality assurance test on an IT project—in fact, we do not have IT projects any more; this is a business change project—one of the indicators of difficulties relates to the number of project managers. If the project manager has changed a lot, there will be reasons for that: it is a very clear flashing red light. This programme has been unlucky—I use that word advisedly—in that it has had a number of different project managers who have had to move on for different reasons. Of course, that creates issues about how things are done, as in this case.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Edinburgh East said about roll-out. It was not clear that she thought that the Secretary of State was rolling it out wrongly; rather, she seemed concerned that he had not told her in advance, at the start, how he was going to do it. That is an entirely different matter, because sometimes things are changed for tactical reasons. When the Olympics are being delivered, things are sometimes done in a different order. That is not unreasonable and not necessarily wrong.