Universal Credit is really on the ropes now — with the Public Accounts Committee forcing mandarins to admit that the Treasury hasn’t actually signed off on the project:
“We shouldn’t beat about the bush: it hasn’t been signed off. What we’ve had is a set of conditional reassurances about progress and the Treasury have released money accordingly. That is one of the key controls.”
Just had 4 permanent secretaries admit after blustering Universal Credit business case not signed off. Chaos or what?
— Margaret Hodge MP (@margarethodge) July 7, 2014
This response from officials could put Esther McVey in real trouble — with the DWP minister having told parliament a week ago that the Treasury had “approved” the business case. Here’s what Esther McVey had to say for herself yesterday by way of explanation:
Stephen Timms: Is it the case, as the Minister said in her written answer on Monday last week, that the Treasury has approved the universal credit business case—yes or no?
Esther McVey: I have just had the answer that I gave last week checked. It stated:
“The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has approved the UC Strategic Outline Business Case plans for the remainder of this Parliament (2014-15) as per the ministerial announcement”
That was the response and I have just had it verified.
Stephen Timms: Will the Minister tell us, then, why the head of the civil service today told the Public Accounts Committee that the Treasury has not approved the universal credit business case?
Esther McVey: I will look into that additional point and get back to the right hon. Gentleman. On his last point, I have had the answer checked by my officials and it was correct.
But even Treasury ministers can’t bring themselves to say “yes” when asked directly whether they signed off. Weasel-ey McVey could find the qualification “for the remainder of this parliament” is all that stands between her and an apology to the Commons.
Apparently the whole programme is on a “drip feed” of money to keep it going … a bit like Iain Duncan Smith’s career, then.