IDS to face MPs to account for his Universal Credit failings

Mon, 09/12/2013 - 13:05 -- nick

Under-fire Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith will finally face a committee of MPs this afternoon to account for his failures on the Universal Credit system.

In advance of this he gave an interview to The Financial Times in which he said he took "complete responsibility ... from start to finish" for the issues affecting the scheme.

This public admission came after he reportedly pressured MPs on the Public Accounts Committee to blame the civil servant in charge, Robert Devereux, for the many problems, breaking the rules on ministerial responsibility.

He simultaneously tried to downplay the disaster that Universal Credit has become under his watch, saying: “All IT programmes, let’s be honest, always have elements that get written off.

“No one has got hurt and that’s the important point. I intervened early enough to stop that happening.”

He claimed he "did not recognise" suggestions from the National Audit Office (NAO) that £140 million would need to be written off, although he did not say whether this was because it would not happen or that he did not know the specific figure.

The Public Accounts Committee has accused his management of the scheme of being "alarmingly weak", said he failed to “grasp the nature and enormity of the task”, and had missed early “warning signs” of trouble.

Smith told The Financial Times that the IT system at the heart of the scheme was progressing well and that it would be delivered on budget.

The FT also asked him about Chancellor George Osborne's rumoured remark that he was not intellectually up to the job, saying: “I don’t believe it and he has said publicly that he never said it and I’m happy with that."

The Public Accounts Committee is likely to ask Smith why he is developing a second parallel IT system to cover the failings of the first rather than starting again.

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