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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Living by the sword

In the old days, Kings and/or Governments who lived by the sword, often died by the sword. In modern times, the sword has been replaced by ICT systems.

Thus the report in Sunday's Independent that the Government's flagship reform of Britain's welfare system has been placed on a Treasury list of projects in crisis because of problems with the ICT comes as no surprise.

The paper says that despite assurances from the Department for Work and Pensions that universal credit will be rolled out on time and on budget, its national launch, scheduled for October next year, will now be limited to small regional projects. They report that sources within the DWP have said that a realistic national roll-out, regardless of the department's public assurances, is already a year behind schedule amid fears that "technical issues over computer software" could push that back further:

A government adviser on information technology said: "IDS, like other ministers before him, has been hypnotised by promises of what an online system can deliver. Warnings were given to him more than a year ago. They were ignored."

Universal credit has a development budget of £2bn. It is supposed to be a paperless online IT system for claimants that would bridge the DWP's data with the Treasury. Six separate benefits are to be combined into one payment.

However, the project, according to senior Whitehall sources, is already suffering a £100m overrun. There are also concerns that a further £300m is being hidden by rising costs reallocated to child support payments.

A reorganisation of the complex IT system, following the departure this month of key senior civil servants in charge of universal credit, could mean an overrun of £500m by next spring.

It is a familiar story. When will government learn that ICT projects such as this are often more trouble than they are worth?
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