Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was forced to explain Treasury approval for Universal Credit today. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Treasury backing for Universal Credit scrutinised

Iain Duncan Smith said that the business case for universal credit has been approved by the Treasury, but only up to 2015.

Iain Duncan Smith was forced to explain today what level of backing the Treasury has granted Universal Credit, after the Government's flagship welfare scheme came under scrutiny.

The Work and Pensions Secretary told the Commons that the strategic case for the ambitious IT project had been approved by the Treasury for the remainder of this Parliament. Treasury approval for the entirety of it has not been agreed, however, though he added that it was expected “very soon”.

Labour MP for Rhondda Chris Bryant was granted an urgent parliamentary question in the Chamber today about the status of the scheme, in which he said: “There has been so much beating about the bush that it feels as if this Parliament has been misled by a government engaged in a deliberate act of deception.”

He was rebuked by the Speaker for “overstepping the line” in suggesting that ministers had misled the government. Duncan Smith hit back at Bryant, describing the Labour MP’s words as the "most pompous, ludicrous statement that I have heard".

Bryant's question was prompted by revelations from Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the Civil Service, who said earlier this week that Universal Credit had not received Treasury approval, and instead was being funded on a step-by-step basis.

He told MPs on Monday that taxpayers' cash was only being released in stages as efforts continued to get the multibillion pound project back on track.

"We shouldn't beat about the bush. It hasn't been signed off," Kerslake told the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

"What we've had is a set of conditional reassurances about progress and the Treasury have released money accordingly. That is one of the key controls."

Conservative welfare minister Esther McVey responded on Tuesday: "The chief secretary to the Treasury has approved the universal credit strategic outline business case plans for the remainder of the Parliament, 2014-15. That is the response and I've just had it verified."

The project, which is designed to simplify and digitalise welfare payments, has been beset by troubles. Last year it was “reset” by the Major Projects Authority, following delays and multi-million pound write-offs.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

Getty
Show Hide image

Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

0800 7318496