The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has hired Howard Shiplee, executive director at construction company Laing O’Rourke, to lead delivery on the troubled Universal Credit programme.
Prior to his current role, Shiplee was director of construction for the London 2012 Olympics, and has also headed up a number of major business transformation projects at companies that include Network Rail, GCHQ and Ascot Racecourse.
He will be replacing Hilary Reynolds, who stepped down from the post at the beginning of last month after just four months in the job. Shiplee is the fourth person to be appointed to head up the programme in just six months.
Universal Credit will merge benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working credit. The IT system supporting the project will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed with HM Revenue & Customs.
However, rumours and speculation have been mounting in recent weeks that the project is plagued with problems due to a number of changes in senior management at DWP and leaked information about the pilots needing to revert to manual processes to carry out calculations.
David Pitchford, who was appointed as the temporary lead on the development of Universal Credit in February had assumed all responsibilities for the project since Reynolds stepped down, but will be returning to his role as chief executive of the Major Projects Authority after his three months at DWP are complete.
Reynolds had been brought in to replace Malcolm Whitehouse after he stepped down in November last year amid speculation that the project’s go live date may be pushed back.
"I am delighted to welcome Howard Shiplee to the Department. Howard has a wealth of experience in the successful delivery of projects of significant scale and complexity,” said permanent secretary for work and pensions Robert Devereux.
“His know how and experience will be invaluable as we begin the roll-out of Universal Credit."
Concerns about the success of Universal Credit’s implementation were brought to the surface again this week after DWP revealed that only one of the four pilot areas for the project – Ashton-under-Lyne – will go live in April as planned.
The three other scheduled areas, Wigan, Warrington and Oldham, will now only go live at the beginning of July, with a progressive national roll out planned from October. The project is due to complete in 2017.
It was also revealed last month that although DWP had originally planned to roll out all of the technology to these pilot areas to calculate claimants’ Universal Credit benefit, sources close to the project have said that Job Centres will actually be manually carrying out the final calculations.
Commenting on his appointment, Shiplee said: "The DWP is delivering the most important and far reaching reform to the welfare system in a generation.
"I am delighted to be joining the DWP during such a key period of change and am excited by the challenges ahead and the opportunity to work with colleagues throughout the organisation to deliver this significant landmark programme."