Claims that Universal Credit IT contractors have been told to down tools are true, Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham has told Computer Weekly.
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The comments follow a hearing at the House of Commons, which saw minister for work and pensions Mark Hoban hit back at reports that IT contractors have walked off the project. He described the claims as a “load of rubbish”.
Hoban was responding to reports in The Guardian from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shadow minister Liam Byrne that personnel or contractors at Accenture, Atos Origin, Oracle, Red Hat, CACI and IBM UK have stepped down, or been notified by the department to “suspend work”, said Timms.
Timms told Computer Weekly: “Later in the debate, Mark Hoban read out a statement from Hewlett-Packard that it was committed to carrying on. Since Liam didn’t ask about HP, it wasn’t very reassuring about the ones he did ask about.”
Timms said he had no doubt that the reports of contractors being asked to down tools were true.
“It’s not just me that’s worried. Four times this morning the Prime Minister’s spokesman was asked to express confidence that Universal Credit would be delivered on time and on budget. Four times he refused to do so,” he said.
“It is, I am afraid, universal chaos. Fundamental policy decisions have not been made. Obvious gaps have not been plugged. Where precise answers are needed, we get just vague flim flam. Key milestones have gone back by a year or more. The IT contractors have been told to stop work. And the secretary of state blithely assures us that it’s all 'proceeding exactly in accordance with plans'.”
The comments follow claims that one of the key IT contractors behind the project has failed to deliver, claims of significant budget overrun, and a shake-up to the project’s top leadership team before Christmas.
Charities, housing associations and consultancies also recently warned that UC has all the hallmarks of another public sector IT disaster.
David Pitchford, executive director of the government’s Major Projects Authority, was recently appointed to head up the UC programme. Pitchford has experience overseeing troubled IT projects.
A DWP spokesman said: "It's categorically not true to say that work has stopped on Universal Credit. All of our suppliers are working with us to deliver Universal Credit from April."