Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 60-64)



  60. And that is just a question of getting round to doing it, over a period of time?
  (Mr Darling) It is the question with all these things. JSA and IS are clearly the biggest benefit lines, if you like, but we do look at other benefits alongside, and they are not badged `Area Benefit Review', but we do look at other benefits, sometimes for integrity, sometimes because of improving administration; but we will be extending that methodology, if you like, to make sure that we get it right. The key thing, I think, is that once you start looking at individual benefits and you look at the different performances round the country you then see the scope for improvement. And one of the things that, I think, staff are being far more aware about is the importance of getting these things right, and right from the outset; and rather than in the old days, as they were targeted to do, so many claims an hour or so many a day, we are now saying to them, "It is more important that you get it right." It may mean that somebody is going to have to wait a bit longer to get the calculation, but it seems to me getting benefits right is absolutely essential, not only for the good of the individual but, frankly, for the good of the organisation as a whole.

  61. Is it possible to get some information, I do not want to go looking for state secrets, or anything, but it would be helpful to look at the rate of official error in a bit more detail, if you have got figures readily available, in a note; would that be something that you would think about sharing with us?
  (Mr Darling) Let me think about that. I do not really want to tell the world that if you turn up at X office the chances of someone noting what has happened will have more success than others.

  62. No, that is why I think you have to be careful.
  (Mr Darling) I am sure there are ways of dealing with this, because Select Committees do get information which they treat sensitively. Let me reflect on how I can do it; because perhaps one of the ways of doing it might be to get the Committee, or its successor, to come into the Department and we will give you a seminar on what has happened and what the problems are. That would allow Committee members then to talk to the staff, ranging from the policy people to the front-line people, as to what exactly the problems are. I think that is probably the more productive way of dealing with it.

  63. And the amounts recovered, as well, we would be interested in. I agree with you, I think you have to be very careful about some of the sensitivities here?
  (Mr Darling) I am happy to be as open as we possibly can be, subject always to not doing anything that clearly is inappropriate. I think perhaps the best thing to do would be, at some appropriate stage, to get the Committee to come in and the officials and Ministers will go through these things and they can then have a perfectly open discussion, because I would be the first to admit you can always do things better.

  64. Just to finish off where we came in, really, I think that we, as a Committee, can see that there has been, certainly over the last three years, a considerable improvement in the direction that the Department is taking and some of the investment and some of the policies that have been coming through. You can argue about some of them at the margins, and, indeed, the political process does that, but I certainly think that there has been a focus and a direction to the Department over the last two or three years, and it is reflected in this Annual Report, that is positive and is making progress. But, as you say, and it is right, it will take time to mature, these things cannot be changed in the course of one Parliament, a lot of this work will need to be continued in the next Parliament, for those of us who are lucky enough to survive the electoral process and return. So, as well as having very positive relations with the Department, I think that we can see that the Department is actually making progress in some of these very important areas, which is a good thing. So thank you for that, and thank you for your appearance this morning.

  (Mr Darling) Good. I shall include your words in my manifesto.

  Chairman: The Committee is now at an end. Thank you.

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