The head of the Jobcentre Plus service has told MPs that nearly half the value of the abandoned £143m benefit process replacement programme (BPRP) is set to be written off.
Lesley Strathie told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee that only £73m worth of work on the huge project could be “recycled” after it was axed last year, following concerns over whether it could be delivered.
The costs of the programme had risen from £138m to £143m because of spending commitments extending through the 2004 to 2007 Spending Review period, of which “£73m is expected to add value to the department”, Strathie told the MPs.
She added that “£70m has no value attached to it at the moment”, although it might be recoverable at some point in the future.
Strathie said the agency’s “biggest single failure” was the collapse of the BPRP, “which our governance pointed up was not going to deliver the benefits and was going to take considerably more money than the outline costs and the business case had shown”. Jobcentre Plus had taken action to bring it to an end, for this reason, she said.
Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Willott pressed Strathie over why they had not been informed that the project was facing the axe at two previous hearings into the work of Jobcentre Plus, in February – when the committee had been briefed on BPRP – and June last year.
Strathie admitted: “I think, with the benefit of hindsight, probably we could have told you in confidence that we had some concerns at that point.”
The chief executive, who took up her post in October 2005, admitted that evidence given to the committee previously had been “wrong”.
She said BPRP had been started in November 2004, because of fears that legacy IT systems “were going to fall over”. By February 2006, the Jobcentre Plus management team realised that BPRP might not deliver, while a new benefit, the Employment Support Allowance, had also been introduced. The agency launched an independent review of the scheme, and by May, Strathie said, knew “our fears were realised”.
In August, the agency’s investment committee took a formal decision to close the programme down, prompting Strathie to write to the MPs, who were then away from parliament for the summer recess.
The chief executive denied that the decision to “abort” BPRP had been taken in February. “Not to abort – to pause the programme,” Strathie replied, citing the number of complex projects making up the scheme.
The independent review had shown that Jobcentre Plus could continue with its legacy systems and build on those in future.