It’s an ambitious plan to transform the benefits system – but it looks as though the technology meant to power universal credit is turning into another great government IT disaster.
This morning the work and pensions secretaryIain Duncan Smith told the BBC that the planned 2017 deadline for the programme would probably slip – although the DWP statement still talks optimistically of the continued “safe and secure roll-out” of the scheme.
One civil servant close to the situation has painted a rather different picture. He tells me that DWP staff at the frontline are doing a heroic job using the IT but they are “struggling so much with the number of times they have to re-key, systems are crashing. They’re not joined up, they just can’t cope with the messy reality of people’s lives”.
The IT system that the DWP is using at the moment is the one severely criticised in a National Audit Office report. It has been developed mainly by big outside contractors such as Accenture and IBM at a cost of more than £300m. Some believe much of that money will have to be written off.
The annual ritual of the publication of the National Student Survey (NSS) results has triggered fevered data dissection at universities across the UK this week. But the analysis, and the subsequent press releases and poster campaigns, represent merely a stage in a continual cycle of NSS-driven activity.
Universities now run ongoing campaigns to solicit student feedback, review practice in line with student demands, publicise changes made, and promote completion of the survey itself, in order to rank highly for satisfaction in league tables. All this time and effort comes at some expense to institutions; just the cost of rewarding survey-completers with vouchers would cover a lecturer’s salary at many institutions.The time has come to review what students, and higher education more broadly, gains from this considerable investment.