WOULD YOU CREDIT IT
This was to be the month when the government rolled out universal credit across the nation. Six benefits merged into one with employers keeping the tax authorities up to date with rapidly changing staff earnings on a real time computer system.
In fact the scheme has only had a full trial in the small Pennine town of Ashton Under Lyne. Recently that was cautiously extended to Warrington, Wigan and Oldham. Why the timidity by Iain Duncan Smith? After all the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions likes to turn up the volume.
What’s happened in Ashton gives us a clue. 78% of claimants needed help filling in the forms for relatively straightforward claims. The pilot schemes are not even attempting to deal with people with complex personal circumstances.
The big worry surrounds the ability of a major government computer system eventually to deal with the benefit claims of millions of people. It’s not only the numbers but the rapidly changing personal circumstances of people on zero hours contracts or temporary employment. It is going to place an extra burden on employers if it works well.
And if it doesn’t? The history of big government computer projects is not good. Remember the millions wasted trying to get all our health records onto one computer system.? The prospects are truly alarming. Thousands of people could be left with the wrong amount of money or none at all. The political backlash could be severe. The Chancellor George Osborne knows this. There was widespread speculation earlier this year that he wanted The Quiet Man removed from the DWP so that the policy could be reviewed.
As it is Iain Duncan Smith remains, blaming his officials as the National Audit Office says the programme suffers from “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance.”
Joe Anderson is the bluff, can-do, in your face elected mayor of Liverpool. Paul Brant was his deputy and in charge of the finances. He brought a lawyer’s calm deliberation to the job. He reassured people that the “wild” had been taken out of this western city for good.
His shock resignation for personal reasons is a major blow for Joe who was in fine form at a Downtown event in Manchester days before Brant’s departure.
His message was that Liverpool is as business friendly as the noisy neighbours down the M62. The problem for Joe is that Manchester keeps getting the big spondoolies. The £800m joint deal between Manchester Airports Group and the Chinese government was the most eye catching announcement from the Chancellor’s week long visit to China.
CAMERON IN LEEDS.
The government is clearly on a charm offensive in the north. It’s easy to see why. Pollster Peter Kellner this week published a survey showing the entrenched view of northerners that the Tories don’t care about our part of the country.
While the Chancellor headed for Beijing and Hong Kong, Cameron was in Halifax and Leeds. He said he was convinced the North/ South divide could be bridged and reiterated his support for HS2 in achieving that.
Well done Rainford Solutions of St Helens which has won a major contract with CERN, the Swiss scientific plant researching the Higgs particle. It is named after Professor Peter Higgs who for forty years has led the search for this particle which explains why atoms and stars exist. It is arguably the most exciting discovery in theoretical physics ever.
So I felt really privileged to be in his presence as he got an honorary degree at Manchester University this week.
He was in stellar company because also honoured was Professor Mario Molina who discovered the danger of chlorofluorocarbons which was destroying the ozone layer increasing the threat of skin cancer.
The quartet of honorary graduates was completed by Frances O’Grady, the first woman General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress and Sir Bobby Charlton.
A great night for Manchester University and its Vice Chancellor Nancy Rothwell.