How I and my DWP colleagues laughed, bitterly, at the answer to Question 83 …
Evidence Taken before the Public Accounts Committee on 8th December 2010
Q82 Stephen Barclay: It puzzles me; it just feels a bit like “Groundhog Day”. We’re getting the same announcements as per several years ago. We’ve got 5,000 staff phoning up saying they’ve got a problem. We’ve got the Department having an IT system that’s not designed from the point of the user. Again, in 2007 you were saying, to quote, “we will strive to design new computer systems and business processes from the perspective of those who have to use them on a daily basis.” And yet, on 29 November 2010 you are saying “By designing new systems from the perspective of the user, we will help to make sure that they prevent staff from making errors.”
In your evidence earlier, you were saying to us that it’s important to stop administrative errors from getting into the system, and I think we would all agree it’s a lot easier to stop the problem than to solve it. But you’ve got this wealth of information from your own staff phoning up. The NAO is going in and finding issues such as that your staff think the training’s inadequate, the guidance doesn’t help them when they need it, support for staff is not readily available and they’re working to conflicting targets. I just can’t see what has changed between now and three years ago, when, with respect, you were saying pretty much the same things.
Sir Leigh Lewis KCB, Permanent Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions: Let me give you some very specific examples on exactly what’s changed in relation to the IT. I can go with you on training and guidance, and I can tell you what’s changed there, because this has been a constant journey on which we have been taking action after action.
Two fundamental exercises, which we held around 2007 to explore how to tackle the top errors in income support and JSA, led specifically to two major IT enhancements, which we introduced at the end of 2007. These were to address major causes of error where the customer, the person claiming the benefit, is no longer a lone parent, or is no longer sick and their circumstances have changed. The enhancements now automatically issue a letter to the individual, telling them, in the case where a child is passing a certain age point, that their benefit is due to finish when the youngest child reaches that age. Having done that, the system then suspends the benefit automatically at that point, whereas previously it required human intervention to do that. Those are both examples, and I have others here which I could quote to you, of where we have been using our IT very rigorously to design error out of the system.
Q83 Stephen Barclay: So in terms of your major IT projects, how many of those are currently late or over budget?
Sir Leigh Lewis: Very few, actually. The Department has a very good track record of delivering its IT programmes successfully. The most recent example of that was the Employment and Support Allowance, which was delivered to time and to budget. The great majority of the Department’s IT programmes have come in as planned and on budget.
Q84 Stephen Barclay: The 2008 Report that said that 19 IT projects at the Department of Work and Pensions were over budget and late was incorrect, was it?
Sir Leigh Lewis: Well, I haven’t got the Report that you’re quoting from there.
Q85 Stephen Barclay: This was from the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which identified, “Out of the 19 identified by the National Audit Office as being the most significant, nine are expected to be overbudget and ten are late.” This is an article in Computer Weekly on 19 November 2008.
Sir Leigh Lewis: With respect, I’d like to go away and check the Computer Weekly figures.
Q86 Stephen Barclay: Sure.
Sir Leigh Lewis: Not everything that Computer Weekly has ever published about Government IT systems has always been wholly accurate.
Q87 Stephen Barclay: I accept that, but you’re saying that the track record is very good. They’re saying that all the 19 big ones are over budget and late. It just seems there’s a big gap between the two.
Sir Leigh Lewis: Why don’t I drop the Committee a note on that one? It’s quite a way from today, but we do have a very good record.
Oral Evidence Taken before the Public Accounts Committee
on Wednesday 8th December 2010