Coffee House

Iain Duncan Smith denies threat to universal credit

10 September 2012

Allowing Iain Duncan Smith to dig his heels in at the Work and Pensions department in last week’s reshuffle sent out two messages. The first was that the Prime Minister is not as authoritative as he should be: telling someone that you’d rather they moved to one department, but that it’s ok for them to remain where they are isn’t exactly ‘butch’, to borrow the PM’s own favourite word. The second is that the Prime Minister was worried about the future of the DWP’s reforms, and was keen to put someone else in charge of implementing the behemoth computer system for the universal credit, even though events meant he was unable to do so.

Liam Byrne prodded Duncan Smith on this today at Work and Pensions questions. He told the Commons:

‘It is quite clear that the Treasury thinks there will be a state of chaos around Universal Credit. The Cabinet Office thinks there is chaos, Number 10 thinks there is chaos. Surely it is time he told the House exactly what is going on, and put before us the business case that he is trying to keep secret from this House, or is there something that he is trying to hide?’


The Secretary of State replied that he had ‘nothing to hide here’, that the universal credit would not cost more than £2.5 billion, and that ‘we will deliver universal credit on time and on budget as it is right now’. He also told Byrne that he had heard him describe the reform as ‘a car crash in the making’ at the weekend, pointing out that ‘I need no advice from the man who sat there and produced the biggest car crash in economic history’.

Labour knows that there is meat to be gained from stalking universal credit from now on, and is holding an opposition day debate tomorrow on that subject. While Duncan Smith doesn’t need to take advice from Byrne, he needs to be wary of refusing to take advice from those around him. His greatest failing would be to be too starry-eyed about the good principles of his reforms to accept that there are real threats to their success.

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  • SimonToo

    You do not explain either why Ian Duncan Smith should be less capable than anyone else, or why his actual proposed replacement might be more able than IDS, at ‘ implementing the behemoth computer system ‘.
    There are, obviously, grave doubts that the Civil Service can implement a ‘ behemoth computer system ‘, but that is regardless of the minister in charge. The one thing that might help that implementation, though, is a minister who understands the system that is being computerised, especially one whose lasting reputation is closely linked to its success.

  • Jim Moore

    the road to hell is always paved full of good intentions

  • dalai guevara

    This reliance on a complete overhaul of the computer system will worry some, but the single biggest issue for people on the lower end of society is something rather different: the 16h work/tax hurdle preventing anyone with sense to take up additional work (legally).
    Tackle that and Bob’s your unkle. Watch a German-style pick up in the low income segment almost immediately; a ‘bottom-up’ scenario, rather than the much-praised and well documented underperforming ‘trickle top down’ alms by wealth creators.

  • 2trueblue

    The best of luck to him. The civil service was totally politicised under Labour and it is amazing that anything gets done.

  • Justathought

    IDS has the toughest job in politics. You cannot fail to be impressed with the progress that has been made to date. Thankfully there will be no U-turn under his leadership of these essential long overdue reforms.

  • perdix

    IDS gave a very good account of himself at a Select Committee Meeting some months ago. He seemed to have a good understanding of the project and went into detail about the testing that was taking place. It’s a very ambitious project. Time will tell if it is 100% successful. At least this government is making an effort at reform rather than kicking this can down the road.

  • Charlie the Chump

    There is no possible advice a numpty like Byrne (and the rest of the politburo) can give on any topic that would be of use, other than as toilet paper.

    • 2trueblue

      It does not stop the BBC and media renting these ‘rent-a mouths’ continually on our TV. I can not recall seeing/hearing anyone from opposition parties during 13yrs of Labours time in power. We had the BBC telling us the ‘narrative’ that they thought we all needed to hear. We still have no real journalistic reporting on a proper level, just same old, same old, low level intellectually challenged, biased, narrow minded . narrative we are served up. If only we did not have to pay for it as well.

  • anyfool

    Byrne will be 100% right it will be chaotic because the Civil Service has become an incompetent service in no small part due to the likes of Byrne and his fellow useless party members.

    • james102

      Yes there now are question marks against the competence of
      our public sector generally.

      Equal outcomes equals regression to the mean and average
      people can’t manage complex organisations or projects.

      • telemachus

        Forget the computer-this will come good

        Focus on the cuts to disabled benefits and the recent announcement 1,400
        disabled people could lose their jobs when 27 Remploy factories close down.

        This is why George Osborne was
        booed by 80,000 people at the Olympic Park during the Paralympics medal

        Focus also on the new Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey who has openly opposed the
        Remploy closures, especially in her constituency of Wirral West.

        She now must be in charge of the very closures she opposed and will deliver
        her constituency a crushing blow of double standards.

        In an open letter sent on Thursday, August 2nd, she
        explains why Ian Duncan Smith could not visit the factory and recounts her own
        visit there. Stating she had an “open discussion and the entire workforce
        impressed”, she then met with the managers of the factory and put forward why
        she believes they have a case to appeal the closure.

        It is currently unknown whether Number 10 knew about her opposition when
        appointing her.

        Or is this a possible sign of another u-turn by the government? Or at
        the sight of promotion has Ester McVey turned her back on the Remploy factory
        and workers she found so impressive?

    • Gerry Dorrian

      The Civil Service isn’t necessarily incompetent; a Marxist revolutionary cadre has been marched into it from the bottom since the early 1980s, and its leaders are now in a position to thwart tory reforms at will.

    • Stiffit

      The civil service don’t need to be incompetent or oppose the minister’s decision to prevent anything being successfully completed. They know perfectly well that s/he’s only in post for a couple of years and certain to be replaced in a year or two by someone who will demand a complete change of direction.

      It’s an inevitable consequence of giving every MP a go at being a minister that any project which can’t be conceived, specified, and delivered within twelve months will fail as it continually gets re-conceived and re-specified by each new minister.

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