Universal Credit Scheme 'Has Wasted £34m'
Iain Duncan Smith has rejected criticism of his universal credit scheme and insisted it will be delivered "on time and on budget".
The Work and Pensions Secretary told Sky News that problems highlighted by the National Audit Office (NAO) were "historic" and that he had already stepped in to sort them out.
And after being forced to the Commons to defend the flagship welfare reform, he branded his opposite number Liam Byrne "pathetic" for suggesting he should apologise for the state of the project.
Universal credit is due to replace six key means-tested benefits by 2017, with officials estimating it will save £38bn in administration, fraud and error costs by 2023.
It is designed to make sure it pays to work but pilots have been scaled back and delayed and a former Olympics executive was brought in earlier this year to "reset" the programme.
In a damning report, the NAO said the policy was overambitious, had been badly managed and has already wasted £34m of taxpayers' money.
It cited "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance" and claimed it was launched without proper consideration of how it would work.
Of the £303m spent on IT, £34m has been written off and the systems still had "limited functionality", the watchdog found.
They could not identify potentially fraudulent claims, prompting manual checks which will be impossible when the policy is rolled out.
The NAO concluded it had not achieved "value for money" up to April this year and also raised doubts about the 2017 implementation target.
Delays would make this much harder to achieve and it would involve shifting large numbers onto the new system quickly with little time for error, it said.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: "The department's plans for universal credit were driven by an ambitious timescale, and this led to the adoption of a systems development approach new to the department.
"The relatively high risk trajectory was not, however, matched by an appropriate management approach. Instead, the programme suffered from weak management, ineffective control and poor governance."
Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge warned: "If the department doesn't get its act together, we could be on course for yet another catastrophic government IT failure.
"This damning indictment from the NAO gives me no confidence that we will see the £38bn of predicted benefits between 2010-11 and 2022-23."
Mr Byrne accused the Work and Pensions Secretary of trying to hide a "Titanic-sized IT disaster".
In the Commons, he said: "You have let this House form a view of universal credit which the nation's auditor says is wrong.
"The most charitable explanation of this is that you have lost control of the programme and you have lost control of the department.
"You must apologise to the House and you must now convene cross-party talks to get this project back on track. The quiet man must not become the cover-up man."
Mr Duncan Smith, who insists the problems relate to issues in 2011 and 2012, replied: "When I got concerned about the delivery schedule, I made changes and I intervened.
"I have brought the right people in to do this and I stand by that. I will not take lessons from you and your party."
On Sky News earlier, he insisted: "We have reset this. It is still being developed, it is still ready for roll out and will be rolled out in time and in budget."
Howard Shiplee, who oversaw construction of the London Olympic facilities, was brought in to lead the project in May and also insisted the challenges are now being "handled".
The NAO said the policy could still "achieve considerable benefits" as long as lessons are learned and realistic plans for a national roll-out are now put in place.