Speaking in the House of Lords, Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud described the write-off of a failed £40 million IT system as “deeply regrettable”.
He also insisted that the decision to “reorganise” Universal Credit, which led to the government’s flagship welfare reform being ‘reset’, was taken by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP.
“We all know that, when you have a £2.5 billion programme with a high IT content, there are elements that you write that you do not need.
“In the private sector that can be a third of a programme. Clearly, any write-off is always deeply regrettable, but one has to put those things into a context.
“We remain within our budget of £2.5 billion — not £12 billion — and we are looking at an overall net benefit of £35 billion from this programme. The NAO (National Audit Office) has said that it is taking a regular interest in the programme; we will continue and will see more reports on it from the NAO.
“However, as regards the way in which we are doing it, it is somewhat misleading to think of this as a twin-track system, because we have a single plan for universal credit.
“We are finding what works through the rollout we have; it may be small, but you do not need huge numbers to find out what works. It is important that we do this testing.
“At the heart of the programme is what we call the “test and learn” process, in which we take what is happening and assess and measure it against other things, aiming to find out how it works. That informs what we call the end-state build, which is thoroughly under way and is in agile.
“The first Warrington programme was trying to be agile, which I think is the best way; this end-state solution — the fully digital one, the interactive digital one — is being done on an agile basis.
Lord Freud also commented on Universal Credit being classed as ‘reset’ by the Major Projects Authority:
“What does reset mean? What happened, as noble Lords will remember, is that Ministers, the Secretary of State in particular, took a decision that the programme was not going properly and took a view to stop it and reorganise it — reset it.
“It is not a new category; it is a description of a process. If one is in charge of a programme, rather than blundering on with it regardless, I would hope noble Lords would agree that it is the job of the Ministers in charge to take that kind of decision, work out how to rebase it — reset it — and make sure it is done safely and securely, which is what we are aiming to do. That is everything that we are doing.”
> Yeah, all deeply regretable… but hey, its only public money, and you’ve got to spend big in order to be able to cut benefits, which we cant afford.
What’s that ? Stop wasting money on mad unworkable schemes and we wouldn’t need to cut benefits ?
Ho ho ho, you obviously just don’t understand how politics works… next you’ll be suggesting that IDS and myself should take personal responsibility for failures.
Source – Welfare News Service, 25 June 2014
Universities and colleges in the North East could be stripped of millions of pounds in funding used to give students from poorer backgrounds a fairer chance of getting a degree.
The cash is at risk because the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for higher education, needs to make savings of £1.4bn.
Teesside University currently receives £5.9m each year, the University of Northumbria at Newcastle receives £3.5m, University of Sunderland receives £3.3m, University of Newcastle upon Tyne receives £1.1m, University of Durham receives £660,000, Newcastle College receives £959,00 and New College Durham receives £637,000.
The money, known as Student Opportunity funding, is allocated to universities and higher education colleges which succeed in attracting students from neighbourhoods where few people have traditionally taken part in higher education.
It also goes to institutions which succeed in retaining students who would statistically be more likely to drop out, and to those that recruit students with disabilities.
Leaked documents have revealed that the Department for Business is looking for ways to save £570m this year and a further £860m after the election.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is reported to be pushing for Student Opportunity funding to be abolished, while Business Secretary Vince Cable and Higher Education Minister David Willets are lobbying to keep it.
Asked to comment on the reports, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said in a statement: “The Department is going through the process of allocating budgets for 2014-15 and 2015-16 and will set out plans in the usual way.”
Prof Peter Fidler, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sunderland, was one of nine university leaders across the country to write a public letter warning: “The removal of this fund will damage economic growth and have a wider impact on sectors beyond higher education.”
The letter said that axing the fund “suggests that the Government is willing to abandon the cause of social mobility in higher education.”
The future of the fund was raised in the House of Commons by Labour’s Shadow Higher Education Minister Liam Byrne as MPs discussed funding for engineering students. He said: “On top of the huge cuts for educating 18-year-olds in college, we now hear rumours that the student opportunity fund that helps poorer future engineers will be completely axed.
“Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to promise the House that he will not sacrifice social mobility to pay for the chaos in his Department’s budget?”
In reply, Business Secretary Vince Cable highlighted £400m in funding for science, technology, engineering and maths courses – but did not comment on the future of the Student Opportunity Fund.
The National Union of Students has launched a campaign to preserve the funding.
Toni Pearce, NUS president, said: “Cutting the Student Opportunity Fund is an absolute disgrace and, in the wake of cuts to the National Scholarship Programme, looks like the Government is backtracking on its commitment to support social mobility in favour of balancing the books on the backs of the poor.”
Mr Byrne said: “The Department for Business budget is a complete mess because high paying students at private colleges got access to the state student loan system. Now it looks like help for poorer students will be axed to pay for it.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 25 Jan 2014