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What are the IT headaches facing the next UK government?

Charlotte Jee | May 8, 2015
Universal Credit, big IT deals, digital services,…and that’s before they start to implement their own policies.

Voters will cast their ballots today in the most uncertain election for decades. While unlikely to influence the way people vote, technology is increasingly at the core of how governments deliver their policies.

The parties' manifestos set out different plans for what they would do if they win power. But whichever party (or parties) form a government, they will inherit a series of IT-related projects in various states of progress and in some cases outright crisis. Here are just a few of them

Universal Credit
The most notable is Universal Credit. The Conservatives' idea, to merge six working-age benefits into one monthly payment that adjusts as individuals find or lose work, has support from all the big parties.

However implementation has been a fiasco. It was supposed to launch nationally in October 2013 but a year and a half later just one percent of claimants are on the new benefit.

It is on its seventh boss in two years and the latest estimates say the government could have to write off £663 million on defunct IT. However there is one small glimmer of hope: an ongoing small-scale trial of a new 'digital solution' which could replace the unworkable IT systems built so far.

The task facing the next government will be to assess whether that new solution offers a realistic way forward for the programme, or whether it is so far down the line of failure it should be abandoned.

The Conservatives are unlikely to scrap it as it is the brainchild of work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith and thus 'their policy'.

Labour has kept its options open: the party says it would pause rollout of Universal Credit and conduct a three-month review before deciding how and whether to continue.

Whoever ends up as work and pensions minister, they will spend much of the first few weeks post-election trying to get a clear picture of whether Universal Credit can be rescued and if so how.
Another major IT debacle facing the new administration is the scheme. A plan to set up a database of individual patients' GP medical records, it was due to launch in March 2014 but was delayed a month beforehand.

NHS England said it needed more time to inform members of the public (who have the option to opt out of the scheme), after privacy experts warned it would leave patients identifiable by data linkage and said data would be made available to third parties like insurance firms.

The project is currently at something of a standstill, with a handful of GP clinics piloting the scheme but no confirmation of when it will be rolled out more widely.


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