The Major Projects Authority's (MPA) executive director, David Pitchford, has been appointed as the temporary lead on the development of the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) high profile universal credit system following the death of Philip Langsdale at Christmas.
Pitchford and the MPA typically monitor and report on the progress of expensive projects in government, and up until now will have been monitoring universal credit closely.
Universal Credit will merge benefits such as jobseeker's allowance, income support, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working tax credit. The Universal Credit IT system will require real-time data on the earnings of every adult, from a new Pay as You Earn (PAYE) system being developed with HM Revenue & Customs.
"David Pitchford will be temporarily leading Universal Credit following the death of Philip Langsdale at Christmas," said a DWP spokesperson.
"This move will help ensure the continued smooth preparation for the early rollout of Universal Credit in Manchester and Cheshire in April. A recruitment exercise for a permanent replacement will be starting shortly."
DWP could not say specifically how long Pitchford was likely to be in the position.
Doubt has been cast upon the progress of universal credit following comments made by the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the Rt Hon Margaret Hodge, who implied that the roll-out may be pushed back after she received ambiguous answers from senior government officials when she questioned them on the go-live date.
Speculation of the project's success increased further when universal credit programme director, Malcolm Whitehouse, stepped down from his position at the end of last year. The official line from DWP was that the change in management reflected a shift in focus from system design to actual implementation and delivery.
By appointing Pitchford, someone who is typically responsible for pressuring government departments into better management of timeframes, DWP is likely to face further questions about the current progress of universal credit.
The early roll-out of the system is set for April next year, with a national roll-out scheduled for October, after testing.
It was also announced earlier this year that Andy Nelson, who was previously government CIO, has now been appointed as DWP's CIO.
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