Lord (David) Freud (pictured), retired minister for welfare reform at the DWP, has called for the government to bring the technology behind Universal Credit back in house. Speaking to a select committee last week about the project overall, he said he woudn’t change the structure of the project but conceded that “the implementation was harder than I’d expected”.
He said it hd been a bad mistake for all of government to send out all of its IT, in a process that started in the 1990s and 2000s. “You went to these big firms to build your IT, and I think that was a most fundamental mistake across government, and probably in governments across the Western world.”
DWP and others are now built on technology
It couldn’t have been forecast, when these systems were put into place, that IT would become so fundamental a piece of the government’s core functions. It had until recently been seen as something separate from the daily tasks.
“It’s a tool within a much bigger system, and if you get rid of it and lose control of it, you lose the ability to build the systems,” he said. The result was that the DWP’s department became a commissioning department and didn’t know how to do the IT itself, he added. “What we actually discovered through the process was that you actually had to bring the IT back on board, and that’s a massive task.”
Government failed to see the problem and only realised what had happened when it started trying to build rather than commission its own technology. “It’s no longer a lesson not just for the DWP, which has learning it and has taken it on board.”
He believed that the difficulties in building a big system and the government’s inability to have staff of its own accountable for continuity and delivery was likely to be behind an awful lot of the perceived failures in public service computing, as discussed by (for example) the Public Accounts Committee on several occasions and reported on New Statesman Technology.