Monday 6 February 2012

Universal Credit, the Whitehall computer game in which real money is used to provide imaginary services to a virtual public

There was Nick Robinson the other day, on BBC Radio 4's Decision Time, asking how policy is made by ministers and their officials. And there was Rachel Lomax, telling him.

Ms Lomax was Deputy Governor of the Bank of England from 2003 to 2008. The poor regulation and ultimate collapse of the UK banking system was nothing to do with her. With immaculate timing, she picked up a non-executive directorship of HSBC on 1 December 2008 and another one subsequently at BAA, the airport operator that cancels half its flights when three inches of snow fall.

The BAA appointment no doubt benefits from her experience as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport. She's also "done" the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Welsh Office, the World Bank, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury.

She's been around and, according to her, the answer to Nick's question is that ministers should bring their little policy ideas to their officials and let them, the officials, work out the details, she just hates it when ministers think they know how to achieve their objectives, that never works.

Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, played it by the Lomax book and took his Universal Credit idea to his officials and let them work out the details. It's not a bad idea, Universal Credit. And what horse designed by a committee did his officials come up with?

Let Steve Dover tell you himself, otherwise you won't believe it. Mr Dover is director of major programmes at DWP and he is quoted in the Guardian today as saying:
The starting point, I said to our telephony collaboration teams based in Newcastle, was just think of a contact centre, but it has got no people in it and think of an operating model that has got no back office, and start from there.
Universal Credit will be claimed over the web, and only over the web, and it will be paid over the web, and only over the web – "New dole system is 'digital by default', like it or not", as they put it in ElReg.

Never mind the fact that something between nine and ten million people in this country have never used the web, the Cabinet Office want all public services to be delivered over the web, and only over the web, even if the nine or ten million people who have never used the web are the nine or ten million people most likely to need Universal Credit and other benefits.

Universal Credit will be introduced in October 2013, says to Mr Dover. It's the way he tells them.

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