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Universal Credit (IT Specialists)

Volume 578: debated on Monday 31 March 2014

We continue to build up the Department’s digital capability, having launched the Government’s first digital academy and brought in a man called Kevin Cunnington, who was previously global head of online at Vodafone. Some 370 people are working full time on the universal credit change programme. The aim of any multidisciplinary team is that individuals should come and go, reflecting requirements at each stage. A team of 50, of which 25 are digital specialists, is currently working alongside other experts, and it is steadily building and on track.

It is my understanding that the Secretary of State plans to continue the development of the existing, discredited universal credit IT system while building a new system in parallel, on the recommendation of the Government Digital Service. Will he confirm whether that is the case, and set out how much extra that double development is going to cost? Also, how is he going to recruit the skills he needs, given the current shambles?

First, on the skills side, we have been recruiting and we have also been educating internally at the DWP, which has been a big success. The digital process, which is about improving this, will carry on. It is the development that was recommended for the longer term. In the meantime, the live service is running, and the system is not discredited. It is working, with the pathfinder rolling out through the north-west, and it will continue to roll out. The vast majority of the equipment being developed in that will be used within the digital system, so those who say that the money being spent on that is being wasted are simply wrong. It will be used in the medium and longer term for all of the universal credit roll-out.

In developing universal credit and its IT system, what lessons have the Government drawn from IT projects conducted by the previous Government?

The reason why we are doing this in a way that tests it at each stage, so we make sure we have got it right before rolling it out and taking more numbers on board, is because we want to make sure that taxpayers’ money is protected through this process and that the system works. I recall, as I am sure my hon. Friend does, that when the Labour Government launched tax credits it was a total disaster; we had loads of people in our surgeries with real problems relating to payments. This Government will never revisit that, which is why I will never accept any advice from the lot who wasted billions on failed IT programmes.

I know the Secretary of State loves to argue that black is white and white is black, but how on earth can he possibly stand here and suggest that this project is “on track”? The Government promised that 1 million people would be on universal credit by tomorrow—by 1 April this year—but how many are on it? He said at the beginning of the month that there were 6,000, but the figures given by the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), show that fewer than 4,000 are. So precisely how many people are working on the IT? Is it 50, as the Secretary of State just said, or is the figure eight, as the Minister of State said earlier this month?

I know the hon. Gentleman likes to get up and speak, but sometimes he needs to be aware of the facts that have been given to him. I have just given those facts, but because he was not listening I will give them again. Of the team of 50 working on the digital system, 25 are digital specialists—there will be more as we develop it and report back. May I simply say that instead of moaning about this system, Opposition Members might like to visit it, as many other MPs have done, because they will see how successful its rolling out has been? Some 90% of the claims for JSA as a result of universal credit are now made online, and 78% are monthly payments—these are people confident to receive those payments. [Interruption.] The reality is that the systems the Labour Government implemented were failures, whereas this will succeed and change many people’s lives.

Order. Mr McCann, I say to you in all courtesy and in all charity that the role of the Parliamentary Private Secretary—you are sitting in the PPS slot—is to nod and shake the head in the appropriate places, and to fetch and carry notes, not to shriek from a sedentary position or gesticulate in an unseemly manner.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, and remind the House, that universal credit is set to deliver £35 billion of benefit to our economy?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend on that. The National Audit Office report said that a minimum of £38 billion would actually be the positive elements brought to the UK economy and those who are in need. The real problem is that the Opposition say they support it, but they carp about it. The reality is that every change they ever brought in was a failure. They wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. We will implement this carefully and because of that, people will benefit, rather than suffer, as we all recall they did when Labour introduced tax credits.