The rush of material released just before Christmas contains some snippets of good news. And good news is all too often ignored (including, I must confess) by me.
There is still much to be done, including to make it more attractive to invest in joined up, secure and resilient UK communications and energy infrastructures that are fit for the 21st century, but the progress over the last three months has been impressive.
2) It looks as though the Universal Credit may be about to be put back on the tracks The recent blood-letting at DWP may indicate that those at the top really have come to appreciate this is the largest and most complex change programme the UK public sector has ever undertaken: more so than the late unlamented ID cards programme or the “not yet put out of its misery” Health Service NPfIT.
I say “may” because the consequences appear not to have yet been appreciated outside DWP. The evaluation framework indicates that DWP and HMRC may indeed be about to follow the spirit, and not just the letter, of good programme management practice. The first major test will be whether the DWP pilot with 1,500 claimants in each of four locations is followed by a proper evaluation of the lessons learned before the roll out is committed. It is good to see that wording in December is significantly less bullish than that earlier in the year. However success does not only depend on DWP taking the extension from easy to more complex claimants step by step and on HMRC being similarly cautious about the successful extension of RTI from well run, IT literate businesses, to the SMEs who (according to recent research) are more likely to employ the geographically mobile part-timers who already give the greatest problems with regard to tax credits. Success also depends on closer co-operation with other government departments than could be delivered for ID cards.
The original computerisation of PAYE (simple by comparison) was seen as so important that the Programme Manager reported not to the Permanent Secretary but to a Cabinet Committee chaired by the Chancellor. That meant that issues requiring inter-departmental co-operation could be rapidly flagged and sorted at the level necessary – rather than delegated to those without the authority to spend time, effort and money for the benefit of another department.
What are the issues that will have to be sorted at the political level, sooner or later, for the DWP and HMRC to secure the support from other departments that is necessary for them to achieve their shared objectives?
One is the tangled web of Identity, Security and Fraud where lead responsibility appears to lie with Cabinet Office, FCO (the ultimate paymasters for CESG), Home Office, MoJ or even BIS, depending on who you ask and how you phrase the question. Meanwhile the £sums at risk are mind boggling as officials and suppliers are expected to “agree” solutions that are well above their pay grades.
Another concerns the routines for co-operation between DWP and Local Government and the many public, private and voluntary welfare agencies as responsibilities change and care is, hopefully, integrated around those in most need – using the coming together of the BDUK and PSN agendas that I welcomed above..
A third concerns the routines for information exchange and operational co-operation between DWP and MoJ, NHS and UKBA – as those in apparent need move in and out of prison, hospital or even the UK. These do not have to sorted in a hurry. Indeed they are much better sorted incrementally over time. But they will not be sorted and the consequent benefits (from improved care, welfare and placement into employment to reduced fraud) will not be reaped unless those responsible have to report progress to those who have the authority to resolve cross-boundary problems and not “just” to their own Permanent Secretary, with Cabinet Office trying to “co-ordinate”. I look forward to hearing good news on this front in the New Year – if only that the problems have been recognised and given to some-one with the political and/or prfoessional clout to be credible.