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Despite what you read in The Telegraph, plans for the Universal Credit are on time and on budget

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen shot 2011-09-26 at 07.59.42 The Telegraph continues to provide awkward reading for the government. After weeks of battering the planning reforms it splashes with an attack on Iain Duncan Smith's flagship plan to introduce the Universal Credit. George Osborne, it shouts, is warned of "disaster" over welfare reforms.

My instinct is that this attack has come from Treasury officials rather than Treasury ministers. Many officials within the Treasury were at Gordon Brown's right hand when he introduced his complex system of tax credits. Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the permanent secretary at HMT, helped Brown design tax credits and is thought to be resistent to the Universal Credit and the reduction in Treasury power that it involves.

The introduction of the Credit is a massive task, particularly on the tight timescale that has been agreed. It involves a complex IT project to simultaneously monitor income and benefits and therefore calculate the Credit which will ensure people are always better off in work, than not. Despite an appalling history of Whitehall IT failures the project is currently on schedule and on budget.

Iain Duncan Smith regards this project as critical to his success and devotes more time and energy to it than any other of his responsibilities. He recently brought Stephen Brien, the architect of the Universal Credit policy, into the Department of Work and Pensions, to help him deliver. There is plenty of danger that this huge project may go off track but it certainly hasn't yet and IDS is straining every sinew to ensure that it never does.


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