Iain Duncan Smith accused of hiding bad news on universal credit after damning report is hushed up

The Work and Pensions Secretary has previously insisted that his department has never tried to sweep problems with the scheme 'under the carpet'

whitehall editor

Iain Duncan Smith has vetoed the publication of a damning internal assessment of universal credit that laid bare the problems facing his scheme, The Independent has learnt.

Today the Government published its annual review into the progress of around 200 projects representing £400bn of public spending – and rated each on a risk scale of green, red or amber.

The only project not to get a rating, as part of the Government’s drive to increase transparency, was universal credit. The Independent understands that the Major Project Authority (MPA) had rated universal credit as “red”, signifying that it is “unachievable within reasonable timescales and to a reasonable budget without urgent remedial action”.

But Mr Duncan Smith succeeded in an internal Whitehall battle in stopping the scale of universal credit’s problems being made public. It was also agreed with Downing Street to release the MPA’s report on the day of the local election results to minimise adverse publicity.

Mr Duncan Smith insisted just three months ago that at no stage had his department ever tried to sweep the problems with universal credit “under the carpet”.

A government spokesman said that universal credit had been excluded as a result of the “reset” in the project in February last year, which saw significant changes to the speed of implementation.

But sources confirmed the MPA risk assessment had been carried out more than seven months later, after the reset began, and at a time when Mr Duncan Smith was insisting the project was on track.

Anne Begg, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said omitting universal credit from the assessment was deeply troubling.

“There is a worrying ‘good news culture’ in Mr Duncan Smith’s department where problems are not addressed and there is a lack of basic transparency,” she said.

“Our understanding is that minimal progress has been made rolling out universal credit in a meaningful way across the country and they are currently just treading water until they can find a solution to real problems they are facing with its implementation.”

In its report last year, the MPA rated universal credit as amber/red, suggesting its prospects of successful implementation have fallen. At that time it revealed the whole-life cost would be £12.8bn, over £10bn more than DWP said it would cost when it put the programme before Parliament in 2010. It is expected that the cost will rise still further but no assessment is made this time in the MPA report.

The wider document revealed a rosier picture of the state of major government projects. Half of the 30 projects which last year faced the most significant challenges have improved, and 47 new projects have entered the MPA’s portfolio.

Other projects including the new passport programme and the Greater Anglia Rail re-franchising have been successfully implemented and are no longer assessed.

However, the on-time and on-budget delivery of two new aircraft carriers was rated as “red” for a second year in a row, while other projects including the High Speed 2 rail link continued to get an “amber/red” rating.

Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, said huge strides had been made in better management of large government projects.

“Before the last general election there was no central assurance of projects, a lack of the right skills and problems were not systematically highlighted before they spiralled out of control,” he said. “We know that transparency drives up standards.”

John Manzoni, the former BP executive appointed to run the MPA, said: “The MPA focuses on ensuring that the Government does projects the right way. Critical to this is building leadership capability, clarifying project leaders’ accountability and responsibility, while ensuring that rigorous project planning and assurance is undertaken.”

The DWP said the MPA’s judgement on universal credit was out of date because it assessed the project last September, and since then there had been progress implementing the scheme through a limited number of pilots.

“Universal credit is on track. The reset is not new but refers to the shift in the delivery plan and change in management back in early 2013. The reality is that universal credit is already making work pay as we roll it out in a careful and controlled way,” the DWP said.

But Rachel Reeves, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “The fact that universal credit was the only one of the 200 projects assessed by the Major Projects Authority to have been singled out is extremely concerning. It’s increasingly clear that universal credit is lurching from one crisis to another with incompetent ministers failing to deliver the savings they promised.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
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

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Accountant

£25000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?