Examination of witness (Questions 60-64)|
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
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
(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
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
(Mr Darling) Good. I shall include your
words in my manifesto.
Chairman: The Committee is now at an end. Thank