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30 September 2014updated 21 Jul 2021 11:19am

Universal Credit boss quits as IDS ramps up the programme’s delivery

While Iain Duncan Smith puts on a positive front for party conference, the saga of DWP’s welfare reforms continues.

By Anoosh Chakelian

So this is cultural change worth fighting for: moving people from dependence to independence.

And Universal Credit brings this all together.

A great reform, which ensures that at each and every hour, work always pays.

Universal Credit: a vision for a new welfare settlement, a welfare state fit for the 21st century.

A testament to the hard work of jobcentres and local authorities that we are implementing it:

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Universal Credit has now rolled out in the North West of England – to couples, shortly to families, to more than 1 in 8 jobcentres by Christmas – safely and securely as we always said.

But, Conference, today I can announce more.

I can announce that we are going to accelerate the delivery of Universal Credit…

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… from the New Year, bringing forward the national roll-out through 2015/16 to every community across Great Britain.

Secure national delivery… yet at the same time, delivering life change at a local level:

strengthening community partnerships, helping vulnerable households…

… getting people into a job quicker and staying in work longer…

… not just helping the economy but reducing child poverty as well.

Bringing up to £35 billion in economic benefits to Britain over the next decade…

… making a lasting difference to people’s lives…

… now and for generations to come.

Friends – Universal Credit is going nationwide – we are going to finish what we started.

This is what the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told the Conservative party conference in his speech yesterday. The rather breath-taking chutzpah of bigging up and boosting a programme that is infamous for being way behind schedule and over budget didn’t go unnoticed among commentators.

I have already covered the tempestuous throes of failing government IT projects, Universal Credit being the flagship flop of the lot. It’s a wonder to many that Duncan Smith remains in his job, but I hear the reason behind this is so that his future potential successor is not tarnished by the problematic project. This is a similar strategy to allowing the former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to complete his controversial NHS reforms before a new minister was brought in as a fresh face for a department.

But Duncan Smith’s championing of Universal Credit during this autumn’s Conservative party conference sounds particularly hollow as the programme has undergone yet another change of leadership. The Financial Times is reporting that its current boss, Howard Shiplee – who took over the project last May – is quitting his post. He fell ill earlier this year, and has apparently been working part-time every since.

When appointed, Shiplee was praised by the DWP’s permanent secretary, Robert Devereux, as having a “wealth of experience in the successful delivery of projects of significant scale and complexity”. However, Duncan Smith, when commenting on Shiplee’s departure this week, insisted, “[he] had always been clear that, as the programme moves into national delivery, [it] must be led by someone with strong operational experience”.

The project has suffered greatly from constant changeovers in leadership, with Terry Moran retiring last year after a long period of sick leave, and Philip Langsdale, who died four months after taking control of the programme.

The constant shuffles in personnel running the project is just one aspect of its troubled, and slow, process. This, coupled with the Secretary of State’s tempestuous relationship with Devereux, shows there is a big managerial obstacle to delivering the reforms, as well as all its technical and financial woes.