The Department for Work and Pensions' deeply troubled Universal Credit project has lost yet another chief, after Howard Shiplee quit the role on Monday.
His decision to walk is a big blow for Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith, who has witnessed a revolving door of UC bosses since the Cabinet minister unveiled his one-dole-to-rule-them-all plans in 2010.
The project has been dogged by IT problems from the start. To date, only 26,000 benefits claimants in the UK have apparently applied for Universal Credit.
In the spring, The Register reported that the DWP was seeking a replacement for Shiplee. But we were assured at the time that the job hunt was being conducted a whole year before Shiplee's contract was set to end in May 2015 to allow for "a smooth transition" ahead of the General Election.
But a new UC leader has been drafted in early. Seasoned job centre man Neil Couling will be the seventh person to head up the project. We asked the DWP to explain why Shiplee had ended his commitments to UC earlier than planned.
Duncan Smith's department told us:
As our Secretary of State said, “Howard has always been clear that, as the programme moves into national delivery, the programme must be led by someone with strong operational experience.”
In May this year we said that we were looking to begin the search for a replacement to lead the Programme to ensure a smooth transition in advance of the next General Election. Howard Shiplee recommended Neil Couling to take forward the next stage of roll out, including implementation to Jobcentres across the country.
It is right that Neil is in place to take this forward with his operational expertise and they are currently in the process of handover. Howard will continue to support Universal Credit in an advisory role.
In June, Labour vowed it would pause the lumpen welfare reform project for three months if it gets into government next year. ®