Civil servant who presided over Universal Credit programme accused of a 'litany of failures' by MPs

Robert Devereux admitted it had taken him more than a year to realise that there were problems

The most senior civil servant responsible for the Government’s Universal Credit programme was tonight accused by MPs of presiding over a “litany of failures” that could cost the taxpayer up to £160m.

Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions, admitted it had taken him more than a year to realise that there were problems with the programme and had only met with the officials in charge of delivering it once every three weeks. 

But he insisted that he had no way of knowing what was going wrong until an external review last year drew the problems to his attention – and denied that he had put off demands for ministers to hold the review earlier.

Looking clearly uncomfortable as he was accused by members of the Public Accounts Committee of “blaming everyone under him” for the failures so far in the Universal Credit programme, Mr Devereux insisted he took responsibility for the scheme’s “poor value for money”.

But he said: “I put people in (to run the programme) who were the best I had available. The reality then is that if a culture [of only delivering good news] starts to permeate through, I had no way of detecting that.”

The PAC’s deputy chair Richard Bacon told him: “This is the biggest programme run by your department. You were the accounting officer. This is a litany of failures – are you saying you were unaware of this?”

The hearing followed a scathing report by the National Audit Office that revealed around £34m had already been written off in IT software and hardware that could not be used for the programme.

But Dr Norma Wood, interim director general of the Major Projects Authority (MPA) which reviewed the project, said that “a significant chunk” of the £303m so far invested in IT development could also be written off.

Estimates ranged from £140m to £160m, but DWP officials giving evidence alongside Mr Devereux said they hoped some of the equipment could still be adapted for other uses.

PAC chairman Margaret Hodge said a “blank cheque” had been given to suppliers while officials had failed “to keep ministers properly informed”. “It is pretty basic,” she said.

“You did not have a business plan. You did not have a strategy. People did not know what they were doing... you must be accountable for this.”

The hearing is likely to put further pressure on Mr Devereux. Senior political sources have already suggested he should stand down, saying he had been on “thin ice” for a while. However, he insisted the project was now on track and should be able to be delivered on time and on budget by 2017.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?