back to article Universal Credit CRISIS: Up to £200m in IT spend WASTED – NAO

Around £219m in IT investments in the much-maligned Universal Credit programme may be written off, a National Audit Office report has revealed today. To date, £344m in IT investment has been sunk into the programme, but just £125m of those assets are currently in use. The NAO revealed the department has written off a further £ …

  1. zebthecat

    The NAO might be waiting a fair old while...

    ... IDS doesn't do trivial things like deadlines and project plans. He was on Radio 4 earlier on this week reiterating this very point. Apparently deadlines would represent an existential risk to the project as they are invariably unrealistic and compromise delivery (i.e. they will always be missed).

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: The NAO might be waiting a fair old while...

      An unexpected moment of honesty from a politician. The people hired to do the job can't do it or they keep moving the goal posts so often it's impossible to achieve significant progress.

    2. Buzzword

      Re: The NAO might be waiting a fair old while...

      Non-IT projects manage to set deadlines, and often stick to them.

      Heathrow Terminal 5 opened on time and on budget; and that was a £4.3bn project. Why on earth can government not improve its own project management?

      1. FlatSpot
        Facepalm

        Re: The NAO might be waiting a fair old while...

        Likely because its easier to manage physical objects, than try to write a program that understands the complexity of the benefits and tax system.

        I expect there are a huge amount of unknowns and therefore despite the expectation, forecasting is not 100% accurate and so you can rightly expect the cost to increase.

        1. sabroni Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: I expect there are a huge amount of unknowns

          In the benefits system? I don't see why there should be any "unknowns".

          1. Valeyard

            Re: I expect there are a huge amount of unknowns

            legacy code and systems, away from the tech side it's rules that have evolved over many many years with bits and clauses added on, then new big-bang systems (such as RTI) introduced, then the old ones (that's AS WELL as the even older systems that are squashed about to fit in with these so the system can interpret both) squashed about to fit in so existing transactions are still accepted and processed correctly, leading to 2 seperate systems full of workarounds and process flow changes so they still do the same thing, and code that has to accept and interpret all of this millions of times per week.

            1. sabroni Silver badge

              @Valeyard

              Complications are not "unknowns".

              I'm not saying it's not complex, I'm sure it's ridiculously complex, but the complexities aren't secret.

              1. Valeyard

                Re: @Valeyard

                I'm not saying it's not complex, I'm sure it's ridiculously complex, but the complexities aren't secret.

                they are when some of the code is >20 years old, there are hacks older than some of the junior programmers..

                When i worked for the HMRC a good trick was to retire, give them a few weeks to realise that no one has a clue about your area of the system and be hired back as a consultant, with a consultant's rate, for YEARS. saw it happen loads.

      2. Chad H.

        Re: The NAO might be waiting a fair old while...

        Heathrow Terminal 5 opened on time and on budget; and that was a £4.3bn project. Why on earth can government not improve its own project management?

        The same Heathrow Terminal 5 who's baggage transportation didn't work on launch day? Perhaps a terminals second most important function after "get people onto a plane".

        If Universal Credit was being run by the same people then it would be a "massive success" despite people not getting paid.

    3. Anonymous John

      Re: The NAO might be waiting a fair old while...

      I doubt it as there's a general election next May. The new Lab/SNP coalition will soon put it out of its misery.

  2. ukgnome
    Facepalm

    surely not?

    I wonder who's money it is that's been chucked away?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have these idiots heard of an iterative process? Why do they keep approaching IT services as one off project which subsequently are repeatedly not fit for purpose and written off when they should be an ongoing process of small changes?

    1. Billy 8

      ....

      Get you, with your common sense and practicality ;-) You'll never land a multi-billion wastebin project with that kind of thinking! ;-)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: Have these idiots heard of an iterative process?

      They probably have, but not being young and impressionable maybe they don't jump on every bandwagon that goes past...

    3. Chad H.

      Have these idiots heard of an iterative process?

      Yes, the current iteration deals with Jobseekers only in certain select offices as long as they dont do anything weird like fall in love.

  4. Frankee Llonnygog

    If I were designing this

    I might break it into two bits -

    An assessment system - that sounds like case management so there should be a COTS or FOSS package

    A payments system - that sounds like banking - there should be a COTS package

    Once you think of benefits payments as banking, then other government payments in and out look the same (eg tax and rebates)

    Give everyone a Government account on a government wide banking system to handle all payments in and out. S'easy.

    (I'm glad I don't have to do this for real)

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Holmes

    Project management, government style

    1) Start programme with enthusiastic announcement, unrealistic budget, and no specifications.

    2) Run around like headless chickens spending money and wondering why nothing concrete is being delivered.

    3) After some time, sack the project lead and repeat step 2 for a while.

    4) Optional - repeat 2 *and* 3 over a number of iterations.

    5) Announce success, give remaining project lead an OBE or knighthood, ignore how the delivered and the deliverables match almost as well as the specifications didn't specify.

    6) Call in NAO to say how wonderful it is.

    7) Place remaining hardware on eBay.

  6. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Abolish the NAO.

    Why spend money on a government department whose only job is to point out the obvious fact that your last massive IT project was a colossal waste of money ?

    Everybody knows it will be a colossal waste of money as soon as it's announced - so why employ expensive specialists to tell you afterwards?

    1. Chad H.

      Re: Abolish the NAO.

      The NAO keeps the (other parts of) the executive to account be being able to publish these details that the DWP otherwise... wouldnt.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Abolish the NAO.

        But it doesn't.

        No government minister, supplier or consultant ever thinks - I better not fuck up this IT project because I will face the terrible spectre of the NAO.

        The reports aren't a surprise to anyone - even the few at the guardian and PrivateEye who read them

  7. codejunky Silver badge

    I dont envy IDS

    Who on earth would want the job of making a universal credit system? Who would want to try and understand and most importantly fix the systems in place to do a highly overcomplicated job which will never be recognised as a good job even if the impossible happened and it all worked and delivered perfectly on time?

    Surely the first place to start is to greatly simplify the laws and benefits and then apply a new system to that model. but that would result in benefits changes which (being tories) would automatically be assumed to be attacks on the welfare state, of course if labour were in power it would be assumed expanding the welfare state. I am not sure IDS could do it nor anyone else until the rules themselves are revisited.

    It is easy to poke at his failures but I dont see how it could have succeeded

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: I dont envy IDS

      >Surely the first place to start is to greatly simplify the laws and benefits

      Nail squarely on head.

      I know someone who used to process benefit claims. About 30-40% of claims could be handled by the (at that time rather elderly) benefits computer system directly, the rest depended to some extent on auxiliary systems or manual calculcations. All because the benefits schemes and eligibilities would keep changing, but people who were already in receipt of benefit continued to do so under the old rules for existing claims. No computer system was available that could handle all the different benefit schemes that might apply in every possible circumstance. And if anyone attempted to develop one it would be obsolete by the time of the next budget.

      Polticians with "clever" ideas don't like to be hobbled by reality - either the reality of peoples' lives (such as living from pay packet to pay packet) or the reality of administration. And they can spent an inordinate amount of money attempting to alter reality to match their scheme. Regrettably, there's no means of claiming the money back from them.

  8. amanfromarse

    Universal Credit Forever

    Who's the contractor - 3D Realms?

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