At this week's regular Wednesday morning meeting of permanent secretaries, senior officials at the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs gave a presentation on Universal Credit and the IT-related plans.
The Government says Universal Credit will radically simplify the welfare system to "make work pay and combat worklessness and poverty". The aim is to bring together out-of-work benefits, housing benefit and tax credits into a simplified single Universal Credit, in part to stop people losing money, or gaining little, when they work longer hours or come off benefits and start a new job.
The reform will depend on the existing tax and welfare systems, some of which date back more than 20 years and use Fujitsu's "VME" operating system which was developed for mainframes in the 1970s.
Some details about the IT for Universal Credit were revealed by Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer and Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office who was speaking at an event organised by the Institute for Government to mark the publication of its report "System Error: fixing the flaws in government IT".
Watmore said the IT plans include locking down existing systems and using Agile principles for a new interface, the idea being to bring about Universal Credit in the cheapest, quickest and least-risky way possible.
He told a packed audience at the Institute for Government on Wednesday about a meeting, that morning, of permanent secretaries.
"We had a presentation from DWP and HMRC on how they are going to implement Universal Credit and the related tax changes. I am pleased to say that the method they proposed to that meeting was to lock down the legacy, build the interface platform to it, and use Agile methods as a way of developing that policy ..."
He added that this was a flagship government policy that could be introduced according to new methods. But what was most important, he said, was not the technology, process or enabling method but "what you do with it".
"If one believes that Universal Credit is the transformation of the welfare state, which ministers believe today, then our job as technologists and officials in the wider sense, is to bring that about in the quickest, cheapest and least-risk way.
"I am pleased to say that the programme plan that was put forward this morning could have been the perfect case study for this [Institute for Government] report I think it is a great example of not only saying what we are going to do but doing it."
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