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NAO report highlights tech failings in flagship DWP project

The National Audit Office’s (NAO’s) report into delays in the Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Pension Dashboard Programme (PDP) has identified several project failures that contributed towards delays.

Once completed, the PDP could benefit millions of people by providing a secure, comprehensive and online point of access for information about their pensions.

However, the estimated cost of the PDP has increased by 23%, from £235m in 2020 to £289m in 2023, while the estimated gross benefits have fallen from £437m in 2022 to £413m in 2023.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “Delivery delays due to shortfalls in digital capacity and capability have pushed back the final deadline for pension providers and schemes to connect to the PDP by a year, with no date currently set for citizens to benefit.”

While the DWP is responsible for policy relating to pensions dashboards, it has delegated responsibility for delivering the PDP to the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS), which worked with Capgemini to deliver the project.

The NAO report found that MaPS’s contract with Capgemini had constraints that hampered MaPS’s ability to oversee effectively the design and delivery of the digital architecture.

“The architecture was commissioned through individual statements of work allowing it to be delivered iteratively using an agile approach, but the acceptance criteria for these statements were not robust enough to protect the programme effectively against poor quality or non-delivery,” the report’s authors wrote.

They added that this resulted in Capgemini not delivering some aspects of the architecture to the standard expected, prompting MaPS to retain two payments in 2022.

Another factor highlighted by the NAO is that MaPS’s small digital function meant it had limited resilience to staff turnover in this area and the PDP also had specialist roles that did not exist elsewhere in MaPS.

The NAO noted that, right from the start, the delivery and technical complexity of the programme, as well as the capability and capacity required, were under-estimated. There were also recruitment and retention issues.

The NAO said that the lack of skills, coupled with limits on the reward it could offer for specialist roles, meant that it had been unable to fill vacancies in the programme team for a sustained period.

The authors of the NAO’s Investigation into the pensions dashboards programme report said that the PDP is currently being reset: “DWP and MaPS have made progress in some areas including revising the PDP’s delivery plan, reviewing the digital architecture to ensure it meets requirements.”

The NAO also reported that the digital architecture did not have several components to comply with Cabinet Office, Central Digital and Data Office and broader government data protection and security standards and despite improvements, the governance was not robust enough to enable effective decision-making. The report’s authors wrote: “There was little evidence that the programme board was providing sufficient scrutiny and challenge.”

They recommend the appointment of a senior digital expert from DWP to be more directly involved in programme governance, including by sitting on the programme board.

The NAO also recommended that the DWP establish a working-level team of digital resources to support the PDP. “Given MaPS’s continuing resourcing challenges, DWP’s digital team would work with the PDP to review the revised delivery approach, identify resourcing gaps and agree how to address them,” the report’s authors wrote.

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