Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)



  260. Why do you think the housing benefit side of the partnership did not work?
  (Mr Kelleher) A lot does boil down to the incompatibility of information technology systems. There are two major problems: the main BA and ES ONE systems for handling and tracking benefit did not cover the housing benefit system and made it extremely difficult in the offices for people to report back to clients as to what was the situation with their housing benefit. The whole sense of an integrated service and a knowledgeable personal adviser was very much undermined by the fact that the personal advisers did not know what was happening on the housing benefit and council tax benefit side. Allied to that, local authority information systems—document management systems—are much more sophisticated than BA and ES systems. We had this terrible incompatibility of systems, where local authorities were simply too far ahead in managing documentation and records. It was about IT, but it was also aggravated by the fact that local authorities were brought in late. Of course they were a core partner, because they were told they were a core partner, and there was a certain amount of resentment about this in the local authorities. Secondly, in all areas it was not the case that senior officers in the local authorities saw ONE as strategic. In some areas they did see it as strategic and they understood it is not just about housing and council tax benefit; they understood it is about local employment, policy and social services, et cetera. And where they were able to get behind it, interesting things happened. There is a sense in which this was an opportunity that was lost. If I may be bold, I would be concerned that this opportunity is being further lost in the concept of Jobcentre Plus.

  261. You have done a lot of work with the staff. The impression we have is that the staff thought they were signing up to one thing, which is that vision you talked about earlier on, and in reality it turned out to be rather different. Is that a problem with the objective, the vision in the first place, or a problem with how it is being carried out?
  (Mr Kelleher) I think it is a problem with the communication of the vision. There were ambiguities in the vision and there were tensions between the work focus and the ONE integrated service. There was not sufficient clarity communicated by management—through the training; by the targets; by the procedures that systematically communicated what the priorities were and how the visions should be expressed in practice. Staff often made the comment, "this was not the job I signed up for". Staff often complained of simply having too big a workload which was unmanageable. The reason the workload was unmanageable was because their job was unbounded. If their job was better defined and better bounded, then it would be manageable with the available resources. The expression of the vision in the actual work process was the key point.

  262. It is not just a question of the process pushing more into looking at benefits, which is what seems to have happened, it is much more than that?
  (Mr Kelleher) Much more than that.

  263. It is not just a lack of training, it is much more than that?
  (Mr Stern) It is the reinforcement, the interaction and the ambiguities of vision and the way it was communicated, issues of training, issues of management messages on a regular daily basis, expectations that people thought they signed up to, so when those factors came together, that is when you had all of these problems.
  (Ms Youll) If I may just add, part of our brief in this particular strand of delivery was to look not only at actual people obtaining work through the system but also movement towards employability. I think staff really took that on board and wanted to make a difference at that point of moving people towards employment. Going back to our earlier points about recognising rather different cohorts of clients, even within those who are formally designated job-ready there are distances from the labour market within that, which people wanted to overcome. This was a client focussed, individualised, personalised service and these are some of the tensions.

  264. You did not get any brownie points for moving people closer to work?
  (Ms Youll) You might colloquially. What gets measured? How do you measure distance travelled, and this became a point that staff were extremely interested in and really wanted help to think about. How do you measure distance?

Ms Buck

  265. Obviously there are huge variations, do you discern any particular patterns, for example, in terms of the relationship that can be built up and the effectiveness of integration in the way the organisation has been able to respond to challenges between, for example, cities, rural areas, towns, discrete communities as opposed to parts of large communities?
  (Mr Kelleher) The major difference that we observed was not between types of areas and not between the different models but was simply between individual areas and individual offices. A lot depended on the calibre of the local managers and the decisions that they made. As the pilot progressed more and more local managers and area managers started to make decisions for themselves in order to make the system work better, they waited and waited for the centre to change things and then they did it anyway, some told the centre, some ignored the centre. As they began to make those changes, things began to become much better aligned and much more effective.
  (Mr Stern) On a related experience for New Deal for Young People, we were always under pressure to say which model worked, what type, and we endlessly concluded, having looked at the evidence again and again, that you have to agree that several models could work if they were thoroughly implemented in a consistent and coherent fashion and were chosen to reflect the needs of the particular area they were in. There is a whole series of nested assumptions there. The only more generalised point I would add to what John Kelleher was saying is to do with decentralisation. It is, I think, one thing when people grab the initiative and decide to do things themselves because they are tired waiting for somebody else to give them the go ahead; and it is something quite different, as did certainly happen in many parts of the country, where they are sanctioned and encouraged to take the initiative as part of a decentralisation process.

Miss Begg

  266. The ONE pilots are intended to provide a work-focussed gateway to claiming benefit, but we have already heard from evidence this afternoon that very often, particularly in initial interviews, all the emphasis was on benefits and very little on work. To what extent, do you think, that ONE has provided a work focus both for JSA clients and non-JSA clients?
  (Mr Kelleher) It is very important to distinguish between the different meetings, between the initial meeting at the start of the first personal adviser meeting and the second personal adviser meeting. There is no doubt you cannot talk about work until you get benefits matters out of the way. Very often in complex claims that is all you can manage to do in the first personal adviser meeting. It is at the second personal adviser meeting that the real opportunities to deal with work come out, and it could be argued that it is best to wait for the second meeting because the real job seeker may never come back for the second meeting because they have already found a job. It will be the expectation that subsequent meetings in case loading would reinforce the work part of it. However, we did not actually see a great deal of evidence of third meetings and fourth meetings and continuity between PAs and clients. So the work focus is something which grows during the relationship. However, for JSA clients in particular, of course they focus on work as an integral part of JSA, so ONE is not that fantastically different. Sometimes we were left with the question that between JSA and the New Deal coming on-stream after six months, where was the space for ONE, and I think in my answer what I am suggesting is that it is like a ratchet effect, it becomes more and more work-focussed as time goes on.

  267. Are we looking at the actual results of research too early? What you are suggesting is that the work focus, particularly for the clients who are going to be difficult, the non-JSA clients, will take a great deal of time and a great deal of relationship-building.
  (Ms Youll) Yes. Work focus was always present; even if it was squeezed a bit timewise, it was always present. Personal advisers were meticulous about that. The quality of it though took on a rather rote dimension,"We have to do this, we have to do that". I think the opportunity kicks in, as John said, at the 13-week interview for job seekers, and this is part of the pattern, and I think it was an opportunity which in many of our observations we thought was rather roundly missed because of time pressures. It need not have been. I think there may be several reasons why personal advisers did not feel quite able to ask the questions, dig a little deeper, make a more systematic assessment of what was going on. There was also an opportunity lost with non-job seekers people in calling them back in, what we would refer to as case loading. These are not the required triggers and elements of the job seekers system; this is where personal advisers can use their discretion to make arrangements to see the client. I think there were opportunities that could be utilised.
  (Mr Stern) Can I directly answer your question as to whether the research was too early? I think we may be confusing here—and we have contributed to that—the time cycle for the client and the time cycle for the research. What we are pointing out is that, depending at what point in the client career you focus the research, you might get a very different impression as to the emphasis of benefits focus or work focus. I think the advantage of the very differentiated evaluation strategy which is taking place in ONE is that it allows those different points in time to be observed. So standing back from it, we would not have the view that the work focus was not well represented, we would take the view if you focus on particular points in time you might see it as less representative than at other times.

  268. John Kelleher mentioned the idea of breaking clients into three groups, but at the same time you said that the PAs were very poor at being able to put them into groups, they tended to assess clients in a pretty informal way and you gave one example. I do not know if you can give any more examples of where you thought that assessment was wrong. If that is the case, how are they going to be any better at determining which of the three groups they should go into?
  (Mr Kelleher) I think they can be helped and trained to do that. They can be exposed a great deal more to external partners where they can refer people for help, so if they had more time to work with agencies dealing with substance abuse, agencies dealing with illiteracy, for example, they would have a much more sensitive understanding of what they might be confronting and what the issues might be, and they might become better at spotting it. Our observers were researchers, were social scientists. We were able to spot a lot of these things, we are not doctors, we are not educationalists, we have not been fantastically trained to do it, but we have had some exposure to it. I do not think it is an enormously difficult task. I think it is a combination of what the process asks you to do as a personal adviser, how you are trained to do it, and what sort of extramural experiences and networks you have to support you in doing that.

  269. You are saying you are not expecting personal advisers to be the fount of all knowledge, but they have to know who to refer someone on to. If it is an issue of disability, and this came up earlier, many personal advisers just do not feel comfortable about broaching work with someone who they perceive as being ill or very disabled. You think that might be improved. Do you think it might be the voluntary sector who would be providing that expertise?
  (Mr Kelleher) I think there is a very wide range of expertise. There is the huge post-16 training and skills arena; there are further education colleges; adult literacy, et cetera; there are all sorts of different specialist agencies dealing with all sorts of different disabilities and social disabilities, but I think it is about knowing who to refer to. Many of the areas put together very good compendiums of what are the available resources and who you can talk to, but the frustration was that personal advisers did not have time to work with them. It is about knowing who to refer to and also about knowing what to look for. If somebody has a very irregular employment pattern and keeps coming back into the system, personal advisers need to know to look for the obvious explanations, when there is not an obvious explanation to see. So they need to look for mental illness, for illiteracy, for various kinds of personality problems, they need to know that is what they are looking for because what they find will determine what they do in terms of referrals. What we are talking about is not so much training, though training is important, we are talking about protocols, how do you handle particular situations, what is the routine you run through and what do you do contingent on that.
  (Mr Stern) There is a subtle distinction which sometimes is difficult to make. If the problem is, why do in some cases personal advisers inappropriately keep things to themselves and not refer on, then it may be a question of, do they recognise, it may be a question of do they have the resources available and the time, or it may be a question of do they have adequate networks and knowledge of the specialist resources, and it is sometimes difficult to tell which one is going on, whether it is the desire to keep things to oneself, whether it is just not knowing what to do, or whether it is a range of alternative explanations which come up in different cases or the same observed phenomena.

  270. In the three groups that you identify you suggest that only the second category, the clients moving to work should be helped? If that is the case, are you not writing off the third group, the most difficult to place, those not motivated to work who have enormous barriers, who need the most help?
  (Mr Kelleher) We are not suggesting they are write-offs. What we are suggesting is there should be effective referral strategies, move them in ways where their needs could be seriously examined, probably by moving them very quickly into the New Deal, in an appropriate New Deal.

  271. Would that cover all of it?
  (Mr Kelleher) It would not necessarily cover all of them. In some cases we need to find new devices for dealing with the bane of the third groups: short-term job placement. We observed one interaction: somebody was sent to get a job, the personal adviser observed the routine, you have been employed in this, this and this place in the last six months but never paused to say how come you have had six jobs in the last six months and kept none of them, we will send you to another job. There are categories that need intervention. If the new system becomes more sensitised, can we begin to start generating innovative responses to these problems. I think that the staff and management on the ground already have the ideas and capacity to sort out a great deal of these things but what they need is the space to perform local innovation.

  272. You said innovation. Do you have any ideas of what those innovations might be for clients that we are talking about who are unemployable. New Deal can only go so far.
  (Ms Youll) In responding to that I have in mind the New Deal for disabled people innovative schemes, which I think demonstrate a number of ways in which innovation can take place that would be quite appropriate to and sympathetic to the new Jobcentre Plus objectives. What I think it means, and one of the innovations that I think might be signalled, is to see a ONE type service in Jobcentre Plus essentially to be woven into the wider labour market system, wider community resources and to see itself really as one element in a movement, for example, working more closely with employers, family friendly policies, work-life balances. These issues we know are being examined in other places.

  273. Innovation might be to bring these elements into some kind of conjunction, how would the Jobcentre Plus look if it worked much more strategically with local authorities and with other elements in the labour market, crucially involving employers?
  (Mr Kelleher) Yes, if the focus was not simply on the individual and the individual's supposed employability or unemployability and the focus was on the context and the system by which they become employed. Because it is working with employers and other agencies which has been proven in a tight labour market to make a difference.

  274. Is there a case for personal advisers being more proactive and going out and getting involved with employers and also getting involved with other agencies?
  (Mr Kelleher) Absolutely, but they would need time to do it, which is why the priorities have to be sorted.
  (Mr Stern) There are alternatives. If the key point that I understand we are trying to make is that innovation, which is a much abused term, does not often involve blue-sky solutions but tends to involve known things together in different ways, then the issue that we are highlighting is, how do you ensure that what ONE or Jobcentre Plus is trying to achieve is reinforced with and consistent with drawing on a whole range of issues that are work focussed, some of which can be addressed by the personal advisers, some, which cannot. Some of the aspects of work in the labour market context are beyond the remit of personal advisers but would enhance the capacity of personal advisers if somebody was doing it.

James Purnell

  275. Just to go back to bring together the two evidence sessions, is what you are saying that people have been getting a better service from their own experience, but because of the fairly clear targeting which was applied, and as Andrew Dismore was saying, focuses on process, personal advisers have been encouraged to offer that better service to people who it is easier to place into jobs, so in a way it is serving people who already had a good chance of getting back into the market?
  (Mr Kelleher) I think that is one part of the explanation. I think the nature and the quality of the process determines the outcome. If we are trying to understand the impact or lack of impact of ONE we must understand the quality of the interaction that takes place between personal advisers and clients. There were many obstacles to personal advisers effectively having positive impacts on clients. Many of these things were practical resource issues, IT systems, time limitations, available management, et cetera. Much of it also, as we discussed, had to do what personal advisers understood their job to be, how they understood the ONE vision. Part of it had to do with how they understood what the clients were and what they should be doing with the clients. All three of those things needs to be sorted out. As I said, I think, at the outset, most of the elements to make something like ONE work, say in the context of Jobcentre Plus, would appear to already exist, we have experienced them. What we have not experienced is them coming together, far from it. It was the concentration on the process that caused the problem. It was that we needed more concentration on the design of the process and not to get lost in the epiphenomenon of the process: did you see the person, did they have their first person adviser meeting after three or four days? That is not going to determine whether people get jobs or not. There is the problem of falling back into all sorts of bureaucratic default about saying that the system works, the queues were not too long, we saw them in a certain time, we saw everyone after 20 weeks, which is nice and good as far as it goes but it is only quite tenuously associated with impact. It is the design of the process to maximise impact which is the issue.

  276. Can we focus on the ONE process? Were there any particular recommendations you would make from your work coming out of the study that was applied in ONE?
  (Mr Kelleher) Yes. The information technology systems, they were more of a hindrance than a help. It is very strange, it seems to us, to organise a process based system, where the information technology systems are not built in a dedicated fashion for the job in hand. Normally one would expect that the process and the information systems are developed in tandem. In fact what we had was a number of very fairly ropy old systems patched together in a fashion that was not effectively supporting the personal advisers doing their work. IT systems were a major obstacle. The second obstacle was the provision of training, adequate training and just-in-time training. The third obstacle was the absence of appropriate targets and appropriate priorities, all three of those things could have improved the process greatly. However, the fourth difficulty of the process was really an artifact of the pilot. This was set up as a pilot, it was meant to run largely unchanged for a couple of years so that it could be evaluated. There was, of course, on the ground a crying need for continuous process improvement and if there had been more continuous process improvement at the discretion of local managers and if the learning from that process improvement had been generalised across the system we might well have seen much greater effects on them.
  (Mr Stern) I raised the point earlier about pilots and non-pilots and pathfinders, and I think the characteristic of pilots is that they do try to minimise innovation in the course of the process and know what it is that is happening. Whereas, if you regard innovation as a learning process, as almost an action research experiment, the idea that you can get it all right in the beginning and have a clear cut hypothesis and clear specification and a process designed which is noble at day one and then it is a question of implementing it, is less credible, and one is more open about saying there is inevitably when you are introducing major innovations like this a process of learning and discovery and working out where you need targets and what kind of targets are appropriate and what level of management clarity is needed, and what kind of training, and not to present people with the expectation that we know it all and therefore if we do not deliver it all we are failing, as opposed to, "This is a collaborative learning thing and there will be a time when we will stabilise it but maybe the point at which stabilisation occurs may not always be the same as we have habitually tended to adopt in this kind of programme."

  277. One of the things we have discussed is the potentially confused expectations of people coming in expecting a benefits experience and it turning into a jobs experience, and that seems to have been reflected in Jobcentre Plus in the splitting of the benefits interview and the work part of the interview. Do you have any views on whether that is going to deal with the issues you have highlighted in ONE?
  (Ms Youll) One of our observations was that ONE was never really adequately explained to clients, so there was no real attempt to, in a sense, recruit the interest and participation and collaboration of the clients, who are in a sense essentially partners in the process. There was no kind of explanation of both clients' rights and responsibilities and the expectations of the system in terms of the requirement for a work-focussed interview. Okay, there are always limitations about how much people can take in at a first meeting, but we really did not see that attempt to fully explain to people what was going on. Whether that is something which will be taken on board in Jobcentre Plus I am not in a position to say.
  (Mr Kelleher) If I can give a particular anecdote, what tended to happen was that the start-up adviser would say, "ONE is about bla, bla, bla, but the personal adviser will explain it fully at your meeting", and then the personal adviser would say, "The start-up adviser has told you all about what will happen." How you improve that situation is about line management driving it out of the system through attention to detail, through staff being properly trained and by it being made a clear priority in the system. Then within some sort of monitoring and continuous improvement process, I think this can be ironed out. A lot of the difficulties we have come across in the ONE pilot are susceptible in Jobcentre Plus to simple, good management on an on-going continual process.

  278. So you think that model could have been made to work? You do not think they should necessarily split out the benefits part?
  (Mr Kelleher) Not at all. I do not think we have felt at all there was a need to split out benefits from the job part. What we did feel was extremely valuable was the use of benefits experts, where some of the detail of the processing forms was done by a second person while the person advising was dealing with the more general issues of the work process. Where there was a benefits expert on site dealing with the details of forms, often coming at the end of the personal adviser meeting saying, "Can I just check this or check that", it was enormously productive and enormously successful, and we would certainly argue that that should be generalised for the whole system.
  (Mr Stern) I would like to correct one impression, Chairman. We are not saying the problem was there was in a global sense, inadequate management. What we are saying much more is that management was uneven and that the reach of management and the range of managers available to do some of these things was less than you might have wanted, and there were very, very good examples. The reason we feel confident it can be addressed is that we saw good examples of where it was very well addressed. It is important not to ignore the good practice which exists as well as the evident lack of consistency you might take from across the board.

  279. Did you feel any one of the models in ONE was more promising than the others? Or did you think they could all be made to work?
  (Mr Kelleher) We will never know whether the private and voluntary sector could have innovated successfully because they were bound hand and foot by the contractual arrangements, which gave them very little space to do so. Secondly, on the face of it, the call centre model still seems like a good idea but the underlying IT systems would have to be radically improved if we were to get the benefits from it.

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