Last September, I predicted that there would be problems implementing Universal Credit. To be honest, this was obvious to almost any observer so I am not crowing over the recent coverage. First, the pilot was curtailed and was to be run in only one location for new claimants in one town in the North West. Hardly a rigorous test of the programme in advance of it going live in central London and other cities. In recent days, the government’s Major Projects Authority (so much for the bonfire of the QUANGOs!) reported on progress and national coverage (well, BBC and the Guardian) have highlighted the problems the MPA identified in implementing Universal Credit. But looking at the material, it reveals some interesting detail. Universal Credit is rated Amber/Red. By contrast, the Work Programme gets a Green flag. I don’t recall that being an overwhelming success. Given coverage of the failings of A4E, among others, you might expect there to be some reservations about the sucess of this programme. Similarly, the Incapacity Benefit Reassessment is a success, despite widespread coverage of problems.
But then we realise the criteria against which the MPA judges success and failure are whether the projects stick to their timetable, stay within budgets and achieve anticipated savings. The MPA is unconcerned at the consequences of policy chanmges. Presumably (though, because it is ‘delivered’ by local government, there is no comment), the ‘bedroom tax’ is an outstanding success too. It was implemented on time and the cost savings have been achieved (at least for central government). Such a narow perspective on project management promises to assure us in some way that ministers have a grip on Whitehall bureaucracy and its histoy of project overruns and failures. But don’t question the policy. It couldn’t be that Universal Credit is foundering because of policy decisions. Only incompetent officials carry the can.