Westminster cloud

Programme director of Universal Credit at the Department for Work and Pensions Hilary Reynolds has stepped down from her responsibilities and ‘moved on to other work’ within the department after just four months.

Reynolds replaced Malcolm Whitehouse in November last year, amid speculation that the project’s go live date may be pushed back.

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, form a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed with HM Revenue & Customs.

Reynolds’ responsibilities will be assumed by David Pitchford, who was appointed as the temporary lead on the development of Universal Credit in February. Pitchford had been working as the Major Projects Authority’s executive director monitoring and reporting on the progress of expensive projects in government, and had been observing Universal Credit closely prior to being taken on board.

When Reynolds was appointed four months ago, the official line from DWP was that the change in management of the programme reflected a shift in focus from system design to actual implementation and delivery of Universal Credit.

However, despite the early-roll out of the system set to begin next month, with a national roll-out scheduled for October, DWP spokespeople now seems to be saying that with Pitchford coming on board, roles and responsibilities have changed again.

A spokeswoman for the department said: “David Pitchford's role as chief executive for Universal Credit effectively combines the senior responsible officer and programme director roles. As a result, Hilary Reynolds will now move on to other work.”

Critics have suggested that Universal Credit is set for delay and has all the hallmarks of a major government IT project failure, despite central government persisting that there are no problems to report and deadlines will be met.

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge, implied last year that the project was in trouble after she received ambiguous answers from senior government officials when she questioned them on the go-live date.

“The government still remains selective about which data it chooses to make available. If you want proper accountability and choice [via Big Data analytics], then the government has got to be more open,” said Hodge.

“For example, the Major Projects Authority is doing some incredibly helpful work trying to assess the quality of major projects as they move through government departments. But they have been told they can’t publish the traffic light findings [green, amber, red ratings] on whether or not the projects are at risk or not – because they might be damaging to government.”

She added: “I would imagine it’s because Universal Credit has got a big red on it.”