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

 

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New Digital Editor: Serena Kutchinsky

The New Statesman appoints Serena Kutchinsky as Digital Editor.

Serena Kutchinsky is to join the New Statesman as digital editor in September. She will lead the expansion of the New Statesman across a variety of digital platforms.

Serena has over a decade of experience working in digital media and is currently the digital editor of Newsweek Europe. Since she joined the title, traffic to the website has increased by almost 250 per cent. Previously, Serena was the digital editor of Prospect magazine and also the assistant digital editor of the Sunday Times - part of the team which launched the Sunday Times website and tablet editions.

Jason Cowley, New Statesman editor, said: “Serena joins us at a great time for the New Statesman, and, building on the excellent work of recent years, she has just the skills and experience we need to help lead the next stage of our expansion as a print-digital hybrid.”

Serena Kutchinsky said: “I am delighted to be joining the New Statesman team and to have the opportunity to drive forward its digital strategy. The website is already established as the home of free-thinking journalism online in the UK and I look forward to leading our expansion and growing the global readership of this historic title.

In June, the New Statesman website recorded record traffic figures when more than four million unique users read more than 27 million pages. The circulation of the weekly magazine is growing steadily and now stands at 33,400, the highest it has been since the early 1980s.