Watchdog: Universal Credit, Care.Data Need ‘Urgent Action’

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Both projects are among those ranked by the Major Projects Authority as in danger of failure

The total cost of the Universal Credit welfare reform over its lifetime has grown to £15.8bn, an increase of £3bn from estimates three years ago, according to new figures from government watchdog the Major Projects Authority (MPA).

The report also flagged a number of other troubled projects, including the NHS’ care.data, which it said is “unachievable” in its current form.

Rising costs

Government servicesIn 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) estimated Universal Credit would cost £12.85bn, but the MPA’s report, using figures collected in September 2014, found costs were now expected to be 20 percent higher following a “reset” of the project.

The project currently has a “red-amber” rating, meaning successful delivery is “in doubt”, with major risks or issues apparent that require “urgent action”.

However, the MPA said delivery of Universal Credit remains on track against the latest timetable, approved by HM Treasury in September 2014.

“The budgeted whole life costs reflect the Strategic Outline Business Case approved by HM Treasury,” the DWP said in comments included in the report. “This figure excludes the impact of further savings expected.”

In a separate statement the department said the apparent increase in costs is an “accounting measure” due to a longer period of assessment, up to 2023/24 instead of 2021/22.

The controversial scheme is intended to replace six existing benefits, and is currently being rolled out in a limited form across the country, targeting only the simplest of claims.

Care.data risk

Care.data, meanwhile, received the worst possible rating – red – and the MPA said it must improve in five areas in order to be taken off the list of failing projects.

Those areas include the completion of its business case assurance and pathfinder pilots, and approval to roll out more widely. NHS England must plan a national roll-out, determine priority datasets to be included and outline a risk management strategy, the MPA said.

A pilot phase set to begin this summer will “provide key information from which the programme team can learn and assess the impact before progression into a wider roll-out,” the MPA said. “No data will be extracted from GP practice systems – including during the ‘pathfinder’ – until such time that the national data guardian is satisfied.”

The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) scheme is intended to enable the sharing of patient medical records between hospitals and GP surgeries, with a number of pilot projects announced this month.

It launched in May 2013 but was delayed the following year following a backlash by privacy campaigners and patient and GP groups who raised concerns over its security.

‘Technology Reset’ issues

The report found the Home Office’s “Technology Reset” programme, intended to replace two existing deals with Atos and Fujitsu when they expire next year, was also deserving of a
red/amber rating only a year after its launch.

“Significant financial and solution / plan risks for the programme remain,” the MPA wrote. “The programme is working closely with Government Digital Service (GDS) to ensure the right level of disaggregation and is potentially looking to re-use GDS’s solutions from their recent disaggregation.”

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s ICT reprocurement plan was also deemed at risk, while the Ministry of Justice’s common platform project, which launched more than three years ago, was rated amber/red.

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