The DWP have appointed the former boss of a building firm to run the beleaguered launch of Universal Credit. Howard Shiplee, former director at construction firm Laing O’Rourke replaces David Pitchford who had only been in the job five minutes after the death of previous Universal Credit boss Philip Langsdale over Christmas.
The new benefits system, which depends on the most complex IT database ever constructed by any Government has been plagued by difficulties. Due to launch this month, that launch will now only take place in one single Jobcentre for a handful of new claimants – using a bodged system involving manual data entry and spreadsheets.
Several other key senior staff left the project last year as the IT behind the sweeping benefit reforms rushed headlong into predictable chaos. The truth is that getting the computer stuff right was only ever half the battle, and it’s a long way from right yet. Some reports have even claimed that IT staff working on the launch have been told to down tools by the DWP.
New boss Shiplee appears to have no experience in managing IT projects. He certainly has no experience in benefit administration, social care or housing – three areas of expertise you might hope for in the boss of a benefits system set to impact on 5 million people. Although the word is he can knock up a pretty decent loft conversion if you slip him and his mates a few notes on the quiet.
In a statement on the DWP website Shiplee claims: “I’d also like to record my gratitude to Laing O’Rourke for expediting my release to take up this exciting challenge.”
It sounds like they couldn’t wait to see the back of him. Universal Credit is already desperately behind schedule and over budget and now Iain Duncan Smith has decided to put a builder in charge. Shiplee says he’s on the case, he just needs to nip down the yard for a couple of hours but he’ll be right back so get the kettle on.
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