The curse of universal credit? IDS tries to steer a sinking ship.

The curse of universal credit: Bronchitis adds to IDS’ woes

The curse of universal credit: Bronchitis adds to IDS’ woes

The curse of Iain Duncan Smith's universal credit system continued yesterday after it was revealed that the man brought in to stabilise the project had got bronchitis.

Howard Shiplee, the former Olympics executive brought in last May to bring the beleaguered project under control, has been off sick since Christmas, it emerged yesterday.

He is due to return but has been limited to working only intermittently through conference calls.

Shiplee is just the latest in a long line of managers whose involvement in the project has been short-lived.

Philip Langsdale, an IT expert, was brought in in September 2012 but he died within four months.

Hilary Reynolds was appointed programme director in November 2012 but changed role after four months.

Before her, Malcolm Whitehouse stepped down from the programme after a short-lived period.

Another bad-tempered appearance at the work and pensions select committee yesterday saw Duncan Smith lose patience with MPs.

At one point the tension in the room became so severe that the pensions secretary said: "This committee cannot run the department".

He accused Labour MPs of hectoring him and told Glenda Jackson she was incomprehensible.

The mood at the hearing was worsened by Tory MPs' failure to attend.

The remaining backbenchers were incensed at what they saw as a purposeful attempt to hide failures in the huge IT system, which aims to streamline six benefits into one.

For instance, a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) annual report which included a £40 million write-down due to IT failings was published a day after Duncan Smith appeared before the committee last December.

There were also complaints that the secretary of state failed to mention an internal DWP red team review in a September 2012 committee appearance, despite it being started in July 2012.

"It was an internal review. I don't have to tell the committee everything that happens in the department until we have reached a conclusion in the department," Duncan Smith said.

"At that stage, we had nothing to tell. I don't accept for one moment we were hiding stuff. This committee cannot run the department."

"The truth is we weren't sweeping anything under the carpet because I suspect this has been one of the most detailed and forensic reviews that probably has ever been done by something run by government – it was all in the public domain, we discussed it at great length with the NAO [National Audit Office] and all accounts were published directly and signed off by the NAO."

There are now severe concerns about the universal credit programme in Whitehall and Downing Street.

Tory MPs are particularly concerned by the prospect of a faulty IT system paying their constituents too little money ahead of the general election.