Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) (OP 19)


  1.  The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is by far the largest civil service trade union with a total membership of 274,000 working in the civil service and related areas.

  2.  PCS is the largest union within the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), representing over 75,000 members, the majority of whom work in the former Department for Social Security and Employment Service. It is these members who have been charged by the Government with implementing ONE and will in coming months deliver services in Jobcentre Plus and the Pensions organisation.

  3.  As the union representing the vast majority of those working in the ONE pilots and within the DWP we welcome the opportunity to provide this inquiry with our views on the operation of the ONE pilots and lessons learnt, which will and have undoubtedly influenced the shape and direction of Jobcentre Plus.

  4.  PCS has a history of working positively with both Benefits Agency/Department for Social Security management and strives where possible to work in partnership. Prior to formation of the Department for Work and Pensions we signed a partnership agreement with the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Social Security, Rachel Lomax, and we sincerely hope that both within the new Department and Jobcentre Plus we can continue to positively engage with the Government in developing its welfare reform agenda.

  5. In our submission to the then Social Security Select Committee in 1999 we welcomed the introduction of ONE (then the single work-focussed gateway) with some reservations about private sector involvement, the resourcing of the pilots, compulsion and safety. This submission builds on many of those points, although we have concentrated upon the areas of greatest concern to PCS members, namely: the involvement of the private sector, safety and compulsion.

  6.  We are particularly grateful for the additional time made available to us to prepare this submission, which given the pressures caused by the introduction of Jobcentre Plus pathfinders and the associated dispute may be rather shorter than we would otherwise have preferred.



  7.  Three companies are involved in providing ONE services in four private and voluntary sector pilots. In North Cheshire the contract is run by Action for Employment, in North Nottinghamshire by Reed, and in Leeds and Suffolk by Deloitte.

  8.  Both Action for Employment and Deloitte have chosen to sign up to partnership arrangements with PCS and entered into a positive dialogue, consulting PCS about local issues and taking account of our members' views. Unfortunately Reed have refused to recognise PCS, have been unresponsive to our letters and decline to consider the views of PCS or our members in any forum. The latter point is particularly disappointing as all of the companies are heavily dependent upon secondments from Employment Service and Benefits Agency.

  9.  PCS notes that while both Reed and Deloitte have offered financial incentives to Employment Service and Benefits Agency staff to second there has been a relatively high turnover and significant numbers of members have returned to their home agency during the three-year operational period. We also believe that the turnover amongst the companies' own staff and that of the agency staff (employed by Manpower in the case of Deloitte) is higher than the Employment Service/Benefits Agency average.

  10.  PCS believes one reason for the high turnover may be that the financial incentive to transfer has been eroded by pay increases negotiated with the home agency. In other words the salaries offered by the companies have not increased over the life of the contract but the Employment Service and Benefits Agency salaries have. It is also the case that the rate paid to agency staff (such as Manpower) has not increased since the contract commenced in 1999. Clearly the high turnover causes inconsistency in the service, leads to additional pressure on existing staff and detracts from the principle of a single personal adviser.

  11.  There is evidence to suggest that the private and voluntary sector variant is performing less well than the basic model, particularly on the "date of claim plus six" (DOC+6) target. This means that claimants in private and voluntary sector pilot areas are less likely to receive their benefit within six days of claiming than elsewhere.


  12.  One of the reasons advanced at the outset of ONE for the involvement of the private sector was the chance of innovation. Unfortunately PCS remains singularly unconvinced that the involvement of the private sector has encouraged any innovation.

  13.  Action for Employment set out in their bid a number of innovative ideas. These included a mobile unit that was intended to travel around the areas of north Cheshire with highest unemployment, offering advice and counselling directly on these estates. This innovative idea was abandoned within weeks of the contract being awarded, the reason being apparently lack of sufficient funds.

  14.  We understand Deloitte have abandoned their innovative plans for an electronic claims form (ECF).

  15.  In the case of Reed their "jobs mall" appears to be little more than a few PCs on desks with access to LMS and the Reed innovative plan, which included a "discovery centre" as a separate office dealing with non-JSA clients, already exists in the Employment Service and simply replicates the employment zone pilot. The Reed "touring jobcentre" bus also claimed to be an innovative idea and as a result received additional funding from the Government. However it again was simply a rehash of the Employment Service and TEC initiative of several years ago.


  16.  The announcement of the extension of the pilots was unfortunately made without any consultation with PCS. It is a concern to PCS that, without the detailed information that has been collated by consultants on the ONE pilots being shared with us, the decision has been taken to extend them. It is particularly worrying that the private sector variants are being extended with the opportunity for the companies to vary certain parts of the contract, including placing targets, whereas the basic model will simply continue unchanged for the public sector. This will clearly disadvantage the in-house pilots in comparison to the private sector.

  17.  There also seems to be little concrete evidence of evaluation of what value the private sector companies have brought to the process. Even if they were to meet the targets the civil service reaches it is unclear what extra they bring. What is also unclear and disadvantages our members in the civil service is the amount of reliance the private sector has on our members in Employment Service and Benefits Agency propping up their provision. The question that remains unanswered is how well would they perform without any support from Employment Service and Benefits Agency staff?

  18.  PCS's evaluation of the three companies involved in providing ONE services in the four private and voluntary sector pilots is as follows:

Action for Employment (North Cheshire)

  Whilst the company are keen to discuss issues with PCS they appear to suffer high turnover and have lost a number of Employment Service secondees. Although Action for Employment had high turnover initially this now seems to have stabilised. Local PCS representatives report a high number of inappropriate referrals and inaccurate and incorrectly completed claims forms, possibly as a result of inadequate training of Action for Employment staff.

Reeds (North Nottinghamshire)

  Our experience of this company is not good. In addition to refusing to recognise unions they fail to enter into any constructive dialogue with PCS on the ONE pilot. We are deeply concerned at their ability to deliver the ONE service. The recent allegations of fraud over bonus payments in the New Deal pilots in London (London Evening Standard 15 August 2001), and the internal investigation into Reeds conduct by Employment Service management, complaints of pressure on clients to accept unsuitable employment and poor quality of client support services made by the Citizens Advice Bureau in Merseyside (Liverpool Daily Post 27 August 2001) cause us grave concern.

  Clearly it is essential that companies involved in the ONE contract must be seen to be professional, scrupulous and honest. In PCS's opinion these allegations cast doubt upon Reed's integrity and will have an impact on the credibility of the ONE pilots generally.

  We have also received complaints from our representatives in North Nottinghamshire that Reed are using untrained or poorly trained reception staff in the pilot leading to inappropriate referrals to the Employment Service, such as ex forces clients not being advised of eligibility to Employment Service programmes and clients not being re-referred to the New Deal who are within the 13 week tracking period.

Deloitte (formerly Deloitte/CSL) (Leeds and Suffolk)

  The initial contracts for Leeds and Suffolk were awarded to a consortium of Deloitte and CSL. However within six months Deloitte and CSL had parted ways. The exact circumstances of the split are unclear to PCS, as the view of CSL managers and Deloitte managers seems to differ. However Deloitte took over the functions (mainly HR and researching the pilots) from CSL and continue to run the contract alone.

  Deloitte also seem to be having difficulty allowing sufficient time to either secondees or their own staff to complete the Government's aim of achieving NVQ qualifications for personal advisers. The current allocation of half a day per month is insufficient and will lead to fewer advisers receiving the qualification than advisers elsewhere.

Safety in ONE and Jobcentre Plus offices

  19.  In our submission to the 1999 inquiry we set out our initial concerns safety:

    "Additionally we have some concerns over health and safety. Proper accommodation is vital if the SWFG is to be delivered effectively. Ministers have said they want delivery to take place in an unscreened but safe environment. However the accommodation used for SWFG must not only be welcoming but it must provide adequate safeguards for both staff and other users from the minority of violent and potentially violent people who we know will use the system. We do not believe that the designers of the SWFG have given adequate consideration to these safety issues or indeed the need for some interviews to be conducted in a confidential environment."

  20.  Unfortunately there have been assaults on staff in ONE pilots. Indeed this month has seen a serious stabbing of a security guard in the Lee Rodding ONE pilot office in Leyton. It remains the case that unscreened working in ONE offices creates a higher risk to staff than the current arrangements in Benefits Agency offices.

  21.    However, where ONE differs from Jobcentre Plus is that while mandatory work- focussed interviews apply in the ONE pilots the information we have to date is that in all 12 pilots lower than average numbers of sanctions have been imposed, indeed initially we were told that no sanctions were being issued. It is highly unlikely that in Jobcentre Plus that this will be the case and therefore the resulting risk of assault associated with imposed sanctions will be increased dramatically in Jobcentre Plus. Additionally, whilst there are no screens in ONE offices, none of them currently deliver social fund, crisis loans to potentially violent clients or IOP replacements; all of which will be dealt with in Jobcentre Plus offices, without screens.

  22.  The PCS policy on safety in Jobcentre Plus offices was determined by a conference of delegates from the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service held in Leeds on 24 January 2001. The motion, which carried near unanimous support of the 500 delegates to the conference, is set out as follow:

    "Conference recognises that Health and Safety is one of the key issues for members moving into the WAA.

    We note whilst final decisions on benefit delivery have not yet been made they are likely to be influenced by practices in the ONE and Employment Service/Benefits Agency closer working pilots. In addition Benefits Agency offices are often seen as the last port of call for some of the most disadvantaged and often desperate people in society and benefits such as Social Fund payments are currently delivered in these offices from behind screens.

    We also note the prolonged disputes fought by many union members in Employment Service and Benefits Agency around health and safety including the removal of screens from some Jobcentres and the introduction of JSA.

    Conference agrees that the removal of screens from benefit delivery premises can only result in an increased risk of assault on staff. Conference therefore instructs the Employment Service and Benefits Agency GECs to mount a major campaign to be continued, if necessary after the formation of the WAA, to secure the following demands:

    (a)   early negotiations with the employer on benefit delivery with full information available to the union.

    (b)   all WAA offices involved in benefit delivery to be screened.

    (c)   no member of staff should be forced to work in an unscreened environment.

    (d)   members should have the right to determine their own working environment in non-benefit delivery areas in line with current Employment Service policy.

    (e)   no removal of screens in existing Benefits Agency premises.

    (f)   security guards must be provided in every office and all relevant furniture and equipment secured.

    (g)   visiting officers should be provided with full safety training, mobile phones and should not be expected to undertake unaccompanied visits.

    (h)   minimum standards for other safety measures such as CCTV, secure staff areas, minimum staffing levels and office layouts must be established and implemented in every office.

  In addition we agree:

    1.  To instigate an independent risk assessment once benefit delivery decisions have been made, in line with the policy agreed at the 2000 BDC.

    2.  To establish a joint Employment Service/Benefits Agency campaign committee specifically to take this work forward.

    3.  To draw up joint Employment Service/Benefits Agency plans for industrial action if an agreement is not forthcoming."

  23.  It is our clear view that the work done in the four ONE basic model offices in which PCS members work is significantly different to that being asked of our members in the 55 Jobcentre Plus pathfinder offices. Given the lessons learnt in ONE our view remains that delivery of certain benefit decisions, including sanctions, the handling of potentially violent clients, social fund, hardship interviews and IOP replacements should be screened and that reception areas should also be screened.

  24.  Additionally, it is essential that individual members who feel that a particular client or process should be transacted in a screened environment should have ready access to screens. Last year there were over 5,000 assaults within the Benefits Agency. However, it is not just within the Benefits Agency where the number of assaults has dramatically increased, in the Employment Service there were 4,218 assaults in 2000-01, of which 251 were actual physical assaults, and 263 attempted assaults. All these assaults were in unscreened Jobcentres (where the benefit decisions planned in Jobcentre Plus are not currently delivered). Since these figures were published in spring there has been a stabbing in Croydon, a firebomb attack in Stavely, fourteen monitors thrown at staff in Huddersfield, and a baseball bat attack in Welwyn Garden City as well as the recent serious stabbing in Leyton. There has also been a hammer attack on a security guard in a Benefits Agency office in Bradford. These incidences add to members' uncertainty and an increased awareness of safety issues in ONE offices and Jobcentre Plus in particular.

Call centre variant

  25.  PCS has recently agreed "call centre working practices agreements" with both the Employment Service and Department for Social Security. The broad terms of these agreements have generally been applied in the ONE call centres. Despite some teething problems with IT and use of the electronic claim forms, the experience of most staff seems to be positive and generally supportive of the approach adopted by management.

  26.  Some initial concerns over resources and appropriate levels of staffing appear to have been resolved through negotiations. Anecdotal evidence from members working in the call centres is that whilst there is a considerable amount of traffic, working conditions are no worse than most other call centres and considerably better than many private sector operations.


  27.  In our submission to the 1999 Social Security Select Committee inquiry into the single work-focussed gateway we made the following observations, which we believe remain valid today;

        "Whilst most will not see the requirement to attend a single work-focussed interview as a particularly onerous requirement for securing benefit it is clear that, once introduced, there will be pressure to expand the requirement presumably along the lines of the actively seeking work requirements which already apply to JSA. Indeed some commentators appear to think this is already the case. A leader in The Times on 14 January 1999 said:

    "Failure to accept a reasonable offer of work would, for all but the disabled and single parents, invite the real prospect of benefit being withdrawn."

        Whilst this is clearly a misunderstanding of the Government's present intentions, it is clear that the SWFG will raise these issues and create a climate favouring not "work for those who can, security for those who cannot" but a "work first" approach as is being practised more and more in the USA which sees movement into low paid and/or temporary work as the only solution, to the exclusion of training, dealing with barriers to work and proper welfare support. We would want to reiterate the point we made in our response to the "New Ambitions for our Country" Green Paper:

    "We support the principle of work. However we would also want to stress that contributions to society may take other forms than just paid employment, work is not an option for everyone (and is unlikely to be for many of those on benefits), and we must not stigmatise those who are unable to work. Welfare to work must be accompanied by decent benefits for all where needed, including those seeking work but unable to obtain it."

        There remain problems for some disabled people in particular who find that they cannot qualify for either disability benefits or JSA and future developments of SWFG could continue this disadvantage and potentially make worse by providing an extra hurdle."

  28.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that issuing sanctions and compelling people to certain actions can substantially damage the relationship with the personal adviser. It is also the case that the likelihood of violence and assault increase where sanctions are imposed.

  29.  We would be happy to discuss the attached and would welcome an opportunity to supplement verbally.

November 2001

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