The Government’s troubled universal credit programme has not had a full-time boss since Christmas, it has emerged, due to the long term illness of the man brought in to save the scheme.
John Manzoni, head of the Government’s Major Projects Authority (MPA), told the Public Accounts Committee that he understood Howard Shiplee was still only working part-time since falling ill last year.
His comments appear to undermine statements by the Department of Work and Pensions that maintains Mr Shiplee is “at work and fully engaged in delivering universal credit”. It has always refused to say how many days he is working.
The project also has to recruit a new IT chief after the current incumbent announced that he was leaving the civil service after less than a year in the post.
Giving evidence to the committee, Mr Manzoni said that the project had faced a “torrid” time but added it was now “stable” against the limited objectives set out by the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, last December.
He also confirmed that it was only ministerial intervention that had stopped universal credit being given a “red” rating in the MPA’s recent assessment on the risks faced by the Government. Instead universal credit was given a unique rating of “reset”.
“I would say we don’t invent new categories lightly,” said Mr Manzoni. “This one had significant ministerial discussion. And in fact it was a ministerial and Government decision to say we are going to call it reset.”
Mr Manzoni refused to reveal what rating universal credit currently had – but stressed the project had bought itself some time to get on track. “I think today the project is reasonably stable moving forward against [the objectives] which it set out in its reset plan.”
Universal credit has faced a string of personnel problems since it was launched. Terry Moran, the civil servant in charge at its inception, retired from the department last year after an extended period of sick leave.