Select Committee on Works and Pensions Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witnesses(Questions 140-160)

MR CHRISTOPHER MELVIN, MR STEPHEN MARTIN, MR RICHARD GRANGER, MR PETER ALLRED, MR MARK LOVELL AND MR PAUL KNIGHT

WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2001

  140. Christopher Melvin, do you have anything to add to that? How are you finding the tension between benefits and work?
  (Mr Melvin) I would not necessarily agree with my colleague from Deloitte on the streaming issue. There is an opportunity to stream people but in the labour market where we have worked with ONE, which is North Nottinghamshire, where some 12 months ago there were many redundancies, when textile companies were closing in significant numbers and thousands of people were being made redundant, when people walked through the door of the ONE office, what they wanted was to know that next week someone would pay their rent and that they would get some money to buy food and the basics of life. Once that was out of the way, then they were very happy to engage in a discussion about how they got back into the labour market. It is my own view that if we were not able to give them satisfaction on the very basics, we would not have had a realistic discussion about their engagement with the labour market because all they would have been worried about was where the rent was coming from next week. Having said that, once you have satisfied that first need, then there is an opportunity to give people an individual service which would depend upon how far they are from the labour markets when they enter the ONE office and that is what we have endeavoured to do over the last couple of years.
  (Mr Lovell) I think the tension you are talking about manifests itself in the pressure that hits the front-line advisers. It does not manifest itself in the service delivered to the client and that is the way we have designed the service delivery. What we are describing is a triage approach to every individual as they walk through the door, which is essential. The pressure comes from the conflicting performance evaluation targets which we take back to the management level rather than the adviser. We do not necessarily put pressure on individual advisers to achieve percentage accuracy targets particularly for job placing. We put pressure on advisers to understand their clients, to understand what they need to do to improve their position, be it the very basic needs and getting the completion of the client right, because that is essential and then focusing on support services or work-related activity. The tension comes not actually in the delivery of the service, but in the pressure it creates for front line advisers. If you manage that effectively, you can improve the service very, very quickly. I just think that is an important distinction to make about where that tension exists. If you have a generalist service, that quickly works its way out of the system, but it continues to be there.

  141. Do you think the Department is right to say that under Jobcentre Plus case loading by personal advisers should not focus on JSA clients but on the economically inactive? Yes, no or maybe?
  (Mr Melvin) I think they should focus on both. All individuals who are out of work should get a service which gets them back into work.
  (Mr Granger) I concur with Christopher's answer.
  (Mr Lovell) I do too; the distinction is not helpful.

Miss Begg

  142. May I come back to the tension between work focus and benefits? Richard, you said that Mencap and Dial UK would not engage with you because it was a work-focused interview and would not engage on the benefits. That is going to be one of the main purposes of the Jobcentre Plus.

  (Mr Granger) Absolutely.

  143. Is that going to be a problem or is it just a specific problem in the Leeds pilot or has anybody else found that as an issue?
  (Mr Granger) That is the same situation as Keith Wylie's position regarding the provenance of people working in this sector. That is potentially a policy position but pragmatism should prevail. I would imagine that those organisations will concede the point on a practical front whilst retaining their position on the principle. What is important in my opinion is the quality of service which is delivered and the sustainability of the outcome; the sustainability of the employment placement. That is about the quality of personnel and the availability of opportunities in the local job market.
  (Mr Melvin) The ONE service has shown in North Notts that when we have given those organisations the opportunity to look at the service, talk to the people who have benefited from it and have some input as to how it is designed, they have come round to the fact that asking someone to attend a work-focused interview is a realistic obligation to receive benefit.
  (Mr Lovell) Every district needs to be proactive in going out to those organisations to overcome that hurdle.

  144. So you need to sell it to them and sell it positively.
  (Mr Lovell) Yes, at a local level.

Mrs Humble

  145. How do you think that we can engage with economically inactive clients more to get them into work? Both Reed and A4E mentioned the initiatives you had both had in working with non-JSA clients, but all three of you mentioned the difficulties you have had in trying to work with those clients. How can we best engage the economically inactive?

  (Mr Lovell) There are two principal things. Treat them as a customer. One of the comments made by secondees to us is that the message we put out to them was "Treat them as you would expect to be treated when you walk through the door of that service facility" and we had two competing cultures coming together to do that. We had to treat every individual as a person and think about what it is they require when they walk through the door. That is an obvious statement but I am afraid the process and procedures and mechanisms in taking these types of initiatives to the front line do not support that. The management and culture must reinforce that in Jobcentre Plus. The second thing is to target them more effectively. We are doing this on a New Deal for Disabled People pilot. The civil servants can be very protective about the way we contact individuals. There is so much more that can be done about directly engaging the economically inactive in a whole variety of ways which are different, which are fun, which talk about what we are trying to do when they walk through our doors in the context of improving their life because that is what we are here to do. You can direct market them, for example. You can encourage them in a variety of different ways and not get lost inside the policy message of what we are doing but begin to sell a way of life and approach to life to those individuals. That is the only way to engage the economically inactive.
  (Mr Granger) I have four points. The first is about the location. Service needs to be delivered from appropriate and accessible locations. It is probably a case for a full-scale estates review. Quite a lot of the locations are connected in people's minds with a very different type of system, often from before the Second World War. That needs to be reviewed. Secondly, the nature of the service which is delivered. Two parts to that. Attention needs to be personal and the more an individual has challenges around sustainable employment, the more personal the service needs to be. My final point. Good service costs money. A connection between programme spend and cost of administration, to look at the cost holistically, would address that. You cannot get away from the fact that delivering good service to members of the public comes at a greater cost than delivering poor service.
  (Mr Melvin) Simply, you need to offer them something they want. You have to offer them something they are prepared to engage in. It is my belief that the vast majority of economically inactive people want to work. It might not be the first thing on their mind but somewhere inside them they want a job, they want to be able to enjoy themselves, they want to engage with their communities through work, they want the support network of work. You have to offer them something they want and it is early days because we have just been running this non-JSA pilot for six months in North Notts, but we are beginning to see some good results from that. Another piece of what we are doing in Harringay for Turkish and Kurdish refugees who are on similar benefits is that we do not have to market to these people any more because their families, their friends, their brothers, tell them that if they come and see us we will find them a job. That is what they want from the service. As long as you employ people that they can recognise, they can communicate with, local people or people who meet the ethnic mix of the people you are trying to serve, then it simply is providing what the majority of these people want and that is work.

Rob Marris

  146. A couple of quick issues: one is IT and the other is single personal advisers. Taking those in reverse order. Single personal advisers, that is advisers dealing with benefits and the labour market stuff. Yes or no? Should that be split or carried on together? Secondly, in terms of IT, from each of you, what are your three key lessons for Jobcentre Plus from your IT experiences under ONE?

  (Mr Lovell) Together; absolutely, definitely 100 per cent. Have I emphasised that one enough? IT: flexibility, look at the contracting methodology with key partners because much of that is outsourced, and the structure for achieving what needs to be achieved for these pilots is not in place. Review it and make sure it fits. If you cannot do that, be prepared to cannibalise systems to work and be flexible.
  (Mr Granger) Technology: manage the technology providers with the same approach that was given to us in Leeds and you might get more technology delivered. Put systems which are web-enabled on top of the legacy systems. We know these things can be delivered in six to 12 months. It has been very frustrating seeing them being late. Put systems in which have a business case for a couple of years which can be thrown away. Combined advisers: absolutely. We have lots of experience from the States that this is the only way to help people. The person is not split in two, they do not have benefits and labour market problems, they are a person.

  147. It is not too much for one adviser to have all that information in their head.
  (Mr Granger) No; absolutely not.
  (Mr Melvin) Yes, I would say on the adviser side, keep them together and then have within your teams specialists so everyone is a generalist but each individual is a specialist in a particular benefit. Then with something slightly arcane a team member can go to the person sat next to them or to the left or right. That is how we have worked it. On IT, the important thing is to look at what service you are trying to deliver and then spec an IT system to support it, rather than try to spec a service around the IT system you have.

Mr Goodman

  148. A series of questions about contract issues. Do you think that in meeting the ONE objective the concentration on job placement targets as a key performance measure is correct?

  (Mr Melvin) Yes.
  (Mr Granger) It is correct but it should not be the whole story.
  (Mr Lovell) Yes.

  149. Getting benefits paid to people accurately and on time seems to be a very sensible performance measure. Do you all agree with that?
  (Mr Melvin) Yes.
  (Mr Granger) Yes.
  (Mr Lovell) Yes.

  150. To what extent do you think that output measures are the correct approach to assess and remunerate performance, or should there be other ways to do this?
  (Mr Granger) My opinion is that it should be centred around the outcome, not the output, the outcome for the person. That will lead to a much more harmonious relationship between programme spend, administrative cost, satisfaction for members of the public and staff satisfaction.

  151. Would you disagree with that?
  (Mr Melvin) No, I would look at exchequer benefit, service to the individual and value for the public purse.
  (Mr Lovell) I would agree.

  152. Do you each know how your performance compares to each other and to the other pilots? If the answer is yes, could you tell us?
  (Mr Melvin) I do not off the top of my head, but I have access to the information and I would certainly be happy to give it to you.
  (Mr Granger) We have some information made available to us. I question the statistical validity of the information and I question the statistical validity of the evaluation process, much of which has not been made available to us.

  153. Could you expand on that very briefly?
  (Mr Granger) To compare North Nottinghamshire, with high unemployment, with Suffolk, with mobility problems and small offices, with Leeds with mobility problems for some of the population and lots of employment opportunities for others, I have not seen a set of statistics around job placement performance for example, around staff performance and around cost which have actually been normalised correctly. Nor have I seen any statistics which deal with the fact that the pilots all started off from a different position. Some started long before the PVS pilots. Some have had a lot more technology and estates investment. Some have a lot more experienced civil servants working in them. I have not seen a set of statistics that I am comfortable with.
  (Mr Lovell) We addressed this two years ago and got a similar response to the one Andrew mentioned, that is that it was "commercial in confidence". I would say after that it drip fed in terms of information. I would agree that it is probably not statistically robust. I am all for transparency on it. I should like to know whether we are at the top of the pile, middle of the pile. The reason that is important is so that we can gauge and benchmark what we need to do in our locality, not so I can say we are worse or better than Deloitte or Reed. It is not necessarily well understood sometimes, that that level of transparency is beneficial to all of us. Too much of this is "commercial in confidence" and blah, blah. We do have access to statistics which I do not know off the top of my head but half the time it is "Are we meant to know, or are we not meant to know about relative performance?". I could answer yes, and then say, but I do not actually know.
  (Mr Melvin) I believe it should be in the public domain.

Chairman

  154. One of the things we were slightly surprised about was that the ONE pilots were supposed to run for two years and then be evaluated and then Jobcentre Plus was to be rolled out. Somehow the evaluation has not been completed. That is to your disadvantage as it is to ours. If you are willing to try, subject to Richard's important qualifications about whether you are comparing like with like, and willing to share that and put it all into the public domain, I think that would be Brownie points to you but also very, very valuable for us.

  (Mr Granger) Our data is all available. We have been collecting the data and supplying it from day one. There is nothing to hide there.

  155. But there is a future in this. I expected to find you almost scarred by this process and you all look quite alive really.
  (Mr Granger) Do you mean this Committee or do you mean the ONE pilot?

  156. If Jobcentre Plus is the future, you all seem quite sanguine about this, subject to more resources. There is an issue about that. Government does not have unlimited resources. If you threw money at this anybody could get it right. What we are expecting you guys to do is bring something new to the table. Evaluation is supposed to tell us what that is and what difference it makes if any. You cannot expect unlimited resources either. Do I take it from you that you would not necessarily expect unlimited resources?
  (Mr Melvin) Absolutely not.
  (Mr Lovell) No.

  157. But that if you got some more stable longer term contracts and you got some of the contract issues sorted out, you would still all be up for this.
  (Mr Granger) Yes; absolutely.
  (Mr Lovell) Yes and free up more of the existing resources.

  158. What is the question we need to address to the Minister when we see him in a few weeks' time on this issue?
  (Mr Lovell) There is an obvious one. How do you engage the knowledge we have back into Jobcentre Plus because it is lacking. We have offered it and it would be a travesty not to take the learning that has been evident across all the pilots. There are different things to be taken from each going forward into Jobcentre Plus. We would love to be involved. You still have three highly motivated organisations to add value to this.
  (Mr Granger) I would like to offer the successful implementation experience from ONE scaled up on a national level. I think that is today's challenge and that was a very positive experience for everybody regardless of their provenance and that needs to be leveraged.

  159. Do you think the Department has not got this clocked?
  (Mr Granger) I would not say that.

  160. How diplomatic.
  (Mr Melvin) My question would be: how can we as a country engage the best of the public, the private and the voluntary sector to improve the service of benefit payment and sustainable jobs to those who currently are not working?

  Chairman: Thank you, that has been fascinating and very helpful to us. I know you have put a lot of effort into this and we appreciate that very much. It has been a very, very helpful part of the work we are doing in this inquiry. Thank you very much for your attendance and for the work you have been doing in the pilots. Thank you.





 
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