Select Committee on Work and Pensions First Report


The importance of IT improvements

86. The operation of ONE was seriously hampered by the lack of interface between the IT systems of the Employment Service, the Benefits Agency and local authority Housing Benefit departments. The lack of integration of IT was cited as the most prominent operational support problem for staff from the outset. It meant that basic tasks such as entering a client's details had to be carried out three or four times, thereby increasing the workloads and the risk of mistakes when inputting data. One computer might be shared between several staff and few staff had access to e-mail or the internet.[169] The current state of IT, particularly in benefit offices, is a major obstacle to the success of Jobcentre Plus, which has at its core the integration of jobs and benefits services. For people of working age a system is needed that can bring together information on job search with benefit records. Significant Government funds have been allocated for IT improvements, including replacement by 2006 of the core 'legacy' systems dealing with Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance and pensions. This is a major programme of work for the DWP, and one which is crucial if the promise of Jobcentre Plus is to be fulfilled. Jobcentre Plus lies at the heart of the Government's strategy for tackling long-term unemployment and joblessness. If it is to succeed, it must have the tools to do the job. We would urge the Government to do all it can to expedite the modernisation of IT systems within Jobcentre Plus. As the modernisation of IT systems in the DWP gets underway, we intend to monitor its progress closely.

Management, staffing and infrastructure issues

The role of management

87. The delivery evaluation reveals how both managers and staff struggled to put the ONE vision into practice, as a result of resource issues, the quality of available IT, the quality of available training, and what John Kelleher described to us as the "stretch" of management, with limited number of managers in the local ONE teams, and area managers denied the autonomy to innovate and adjust matters on the ground.[170] However, the evaluators felt that the major constraints on the pilots were issues about the overall communication of the purposes of ONE: "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."[171]

88. The vision for Jobcentre Plus, like that for ONE, is a radical one, where translation of the political goals of the Government into operational reality is not necessarily straightforward. There are tensions between the different goals within the vision which can make it difficult to apply in practice. For example, how much of the vision is about moving people towards work, and how much about providing a better service through a more integrated approach? How can the goal of a service tailored towards individual needs be met, within a regime driven by speed of throughput and job placement targets? These are difficult tensions to resolve and require more individual initiative from staff in responding to the needs of a wide variety of clients; greater flexibility to adapt practice to suit local circumstance; new skills to engage with people at a distance from the labour market; and new tools to use to help them.

89. A key lesson from ONE is that exploring and developing how the overall vision of a work-focused, more integrated service is applied in practice is an essential element of making it work. This is not a one-off exercise, but must be constantly renewed in the light of experience. Managers have a key role in ensuring that the overall vision and goals of Jobcentre Plus are translated into all aspects of the design, systems and practice of the new organisation.

Staffing levels

90. A persistent and vociferous complaint from staff in the ONE pilots was that they were desperately understaffed to cope adequately with the work levels, and give the tailored, individualised support to less job-ready clients which ONE had promised. The problem appears to arise, not because the number of clients flowing through the system was much greater than expected, but because the time implications of administering the service to a greater range of clients with diverse needs and more complex claims had been underestimated.[172] Also relevant are the high staff turnover levels within the pilots, with knock-on effects in terms of productivity. Figures provided by the DWP show that, of the eight pilot areas which provided information, four had staff turnover levels of 20 per cent or more. Somerset ONE pilot (a Call Centre pilot) had a staff turnover level of 55 per cent.[173] The result has been that advisers have cut short the amount of time client interviews are expected to last in order to cope with their workloads. The quantitative research found that around half of lone parents, sick or disabled clients and JSA clients had an initial Personal Adviser meeting which lasted between 16 and 31 minutes only, compared to the 45 minutes officially allocated. A fifth of sick or disabled clients had meetings which were even shorter.[174] Time pressures in dealing with new claims was a major underlying reason why caseloading of less job-ready clients did not happen.

91. The work-focus of Jobcentre Plus will only be achieved if a stable workforce of experienced Personal Advisers is nurtured, and their numbers maintained at sufficient levels to enable individual Advisers to devote proper time both to initial meetings and to caseloading. At present, reward and status within benefit offices and Jobcentres lie in moving away from 'front line' jobs, where staff spend a considerable time in face-to-face contact with the public. Yet the job that front line Personal Advisers are being asked to do is a highly skilled one which requires considerable knowledge and experience to carry out. If the Department is to invest resources and training in supporting Personal Advisers, it needs to have a personnel policy which makes it rewarding for them to stay in post. We recommend that Jobcentre Plus give consideration to the appointment of 'Senior Advisers', to work not as managers but in a mentoring role alongside front line Personal Advisers similar to the arrangements already in place within the New Deal. We also recommend that internal management performance measures are put in place to monitor sickness absence and turn-over levels, with a view to ensuring a year-on-year reduction in levels.

92. Within Jobcentre Plus, the time allocations for initial face-to-face contact between clients and advisers are longer than in ONE. A claimant will spend 20 minutes with a 'financial assessor', followed by 45 minutes with a Personal Adviser for JSA clients, or 60 minutes for non-JSA clients.[175] This compares to 45 minutes for clients within ONE.[176] As a measure of the demands on staff, it will be important to monitor whether the time allocations for financial assessor and initial Personal Adviser interviews are adhered to within Jobcentre Plus. We have recommended that the planning assumptions for Jobcentre Plus build in a time allocation for caseloading activity by Personal Advisers.[177] There is clearly a relationship between size of caseload and effectiveness. The more people a Personal Adviser is expected to work with, the more performance will go down. We recommend that the Government publish its working assumptions regarding the size of caseload which individual Personal Advisers will be expected to carry.

Training and development

93. There is considerable evidence that the training needs for ONE staff were seriously underestimated and under resourced. Moreover, time pressures and understaffing pushed staff development to the bottom of the list of priorities. This is a serious management failure. It is clear that Jobcentre Plus is committed to improving the amount and quality of training provided for its staff.[178] We therefore trust the recommendations we have made regarding the training needs of Personal Advisers and Financial Assessors will be implemented.

94. ONE set itself the ambitious goal of changing the culture of the benefits system to one where independence and work were encouraged. As discussed above, this requires a shift of thinking not just among claimants, but among staff.[179] In considering the training needs of staff, broader questions arise about the steps which need to be taken to embed the new culture in all aspects of the work of the new Agency. Within Jobcentre Plus, new Advisers undergo a three day course entitled "New Beginnings." This is intended to introduce the individual to the new Jobcentre Plus culture and expectations.[180] However, there appears to be no strategy to enable more experienced staff to consolidate their knowledge of the new culture and expectations in the light of direct experience - and to pass that knowledge on to less experienced staff. We recommend that, within Jobcentre Plus, new forms of ongoing training be devised to enable staff and managers to mutually consider their day-to-day work in the light of wider policy goals of Jobcentre Plus, and their own first hand experience.

Staff safety

95. The introduction of Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder offices has been marred by a major dispute with the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the trades union which represents over 70,000 staff in the DWP. Staff voted for strike action over the decision of the DWP to deliver Jobcentre Plus from offices where staff interview clients face to face, without protective screens. Although this happens already in Employment Service offices, it represents a new departure for former Benefits Agency staff. It was a decision which PCS believes places front line staff at risk of assault from members of the public.[181] The Secretary of State has made it clear that central to the delivery of Jobcentre Plus is the provision of a personalised, customer-focused service, where staff give face-to-face advice to members of the public in an environment which is welcoming. The DWP therefore intends to provide the new service to clients predominantly through face-to-face discussions over a table rather than behind protective screens.

96. In 2000, there were 5,148 non-physical assaults on staff in the Benefits Agency, and 164 physical assaults. In the Employment Service, 233 staff reported a physical assault and 4,236 reported a non-physical assault. This was considerably higher than in previous years and due, the Government said, to awareness raising activities about the importance of reporting incidents and a poster issued by the Union advising staff to report all incidents of customer aggression. Even in 1999, however, there were 129 physical assaults on Benefits Agency staff and 166 physical assaults on Employment Service staff.[182]

97. Staff in Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder offices clearly have the right to expect a safe working environment free from the fear of assault. The Department has stated its commitment to ensuring staff safety. Following risk assessments in each Pathfinder offices, a series of extra security measures have been put in place designed to offer greater protection. They include:

  • closed circuit television to be monitored constantly;
  • 'floorwalkers' tasked with greeting customers, guiding them through their visit, and preventing trouble from building up;
  • security guards on the floor of the office;
  • screened facilities within each 'cluster' of Pathfinder offices to deal with clients identified as 'high risk; and
  • a 'zero tolerance' policy towards any incident.

98. In evidence to us, representatives of the PCS very much welcomed the extra security, the introduction of CCTV cameras and general improvement in protective provisions. They argued that the problem was really about the pace of change. People moving from the Benefits Agency, who were used to working in a screened environment lacked the confidence "to take a huge leap from the system they are comfortable and familiar with to the one they are fearful of."[183] PCS had therefore identified a series of measures designed to build confidence, and reassure its members that they would be properly protected.[184]

99. This is a dispute which we firmly believe is capable of resolution. On our visit to Huddersfield Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder office, we were impressed by the general environment and culture of the office, and the way in which members of the public were treated courteously and with respect. We believe that the new culture of the Pathfinder offices will itself reduce the risk of assaults on staff, in addition to the extra investment in security measures. There is a danger that screens can increase levels of tension between staff and clients by creating a 'them' and 'us' situation. During the course of the visit the Committee met PCS members currently on strike. One important issue raised by them was the apparent lack of consistency in risk assessment procedures between offices, which resulted in some having CCTV cameras and not others; and similarly some having greater numbers of security guards than others. They were also unhappy that union objections to the use of flimsy chairs, which could be easily thrown, had been overruled. There appeared to be an atmosphere of distrust concerning the commitment of managers to the carrying out an impartial risk assessment. We suggest that risk assessments must be carried out on a joint basis between management and the Union if the process is to command the confidence of staff. We welcome the absolute assurances given to us by the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus that every recommendation of each and every risk assessment will be implemented in full.[185]


100. The quality of the premises within which Jobcentre Plus offices will operate is very important. The physical layout will help determine people's perceptions of the new organisation. ONE similarly tried to create a physical environment which was qualitatively different from the old Benefits Agency or Employment Office. Ms Angela Eagle, the Social Security Minister at the time of introduction of ONE described it as the "wow factor." She added: "[people] will be coming in to modern civilised areas where there is security and privacy...It will give a very powerful signal that this is a collaborative effort between them and the agencies to find a better way forward."[186]

101. In practice, the private sector partners in particular were unhappy at the poor quality of premises they had been required to occupy in delivering the PVS ONE model. According to Reed, the ONE offices they occupied which were 'stand-alone' and not co-located with a Jobcentre were generally of poor quality, and poorly sited away from high street locations.[187] Similarly, Deloitte complained that, in the Suffolk pilot, ONE had been accommodated in premises which were unsuitable, lacking privacy and raising health and safety issues. As a result morale had been affected and productivity reduced.[188] Deloitte were particularly critical of the fact that they were expected to deliver a service to clients who were disabled, yet seventy per cent of their offices were up stairs with no lift.[189] DIAL UK also drew the Committee's attention to access problems for disabled people within ONE, mentioning the Leeds ONE office (run by Deloitte) in particular.[190]

102. The DWP has committed considerable funds to ensuring that the Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder Offices which have opened to date are fully refurbished and accessible to all.[191] The modernisation and refurbishment of offices to create a completely new environment is a key part of the vision offered by Jobcentre Plus, influencing the behaviour and attitudes of both clients and for staff. At present, in addition to Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder sites, the DWP has established 'work-focused interview' sites in 40 locations. In these areas, a person of working age who claims a benefit from the Benefits Agency is not treated as having made the claim until they have undergone a work-focused interview. This will usually involve a referral from the Benefits Agency to the Jobcentre. These sites do not have the same integrated management systems, IT support and brand identity as the flagship Jobcentre Plus offices. As the service is rolled out across the country, we believe it is it is important that all offices offer a fully integrated service and have the same high standards of appearance and access. We therefore seek confirmation from the Department that the roll-out of Jobcentre Plus will take the form of fully integrated, refurbished offices with the Pathfinder offices as the model.

103. We recommend that the DWP undertake a full scale estates review to ensure that Jobcentre Plus is delivered from accessible offices which reflect the new ethos and culture of the organisation.


104. The creation of Jobcentre Plus is an enormous undertaking, involving the bringing together of two large organisations - the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service - involving around 80,000 staff. It is a merger on a grand scale, where practical matters such as resolving pay and grading issues, bringing together different IT systems, and sorting out integrated premises and boundaries at a local level could well take up the majority of management time. The Minister has already indicated that the scale of internal change was behind the decision not to include local authorities as partners in Jobcentre Plus.[192] So far, the Jobcentre Plus offices created have been those with the physical capacity to expand; where performance levels were already high and working relationships with stakeholders good; and where boundaries matched those for local authorities. Roll-out of further Jobcentre Plus offices to the same high standards will be an increasingly challenging task. The danger is that the organisation becomes preoccupied with internal reorganisation, at the expense of the wider vision.

105. Yet Jobcentre Plus will not succeed unless, at its core, lies the creation of a completely new culture where all benefit claimants of working age have the support and encouragement to move towards independence and work. The creation of this new culture will involve new ways of working for staff, a greater emphasis on flexibility and innovation, and a greater involvement in partnerships at local and area level with local authorities, employers, voluntary and private organisations - all of whom have an important role to play in enabling Jobcentre Plus to succeed. It is crucial for the success of Jobcentre Plus, that the organisation both learns from the experience of its own staff, and also faces outwards in developing its links with the wider community.

106. The goals for ONE and now Jobcentre Plus are ambitious. We pay tribute to the staff and managers of the ONE pilots who have worked, often in difficult conditions, to put the vision of ONE into practice. Much has been learned through the ONE process. There is still a considerable way to go, and the scale of the task in creating a new culture of work and independence should not be underestimated. Our inquiry has uncovered a considerable implementation gap between policy makers' aspirations and delivery on the ground. This will take effort and considerable resources to overcome. It is important that the lessons from the ONE pilots are fully absorbed, if Jobcentre Plus is to succeed.

169   Q. 290. Back

170   Q. 250. Back

171   Q. 261. Back

172   DWP In-House report No 84, page 69. Back

173   DWP further note, Ev 129. Back

174   DWP Research No 156, sections 2.4, 3.4 and 4.4. Back

175   DWP further note, Ev 135, box 1. Back

176   DWP Research Report No 156, para 2.4. Back

177   See para 35 above. Back

178   See evidence of Mr Leigh Lewis, Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, QQ. 320-1. Back

179   Appendix 11. Back

180   Official Report, 8 November 2001, col 374W. Back

181   See PCS evidence Ev 28-29, and QQ. 75-85. Back

182   DWP supplementary memorandum, Ev 158. Back

183   Q. 77. Back

184   Q. 80. Back

185   Q. 307. Mr Leigh Lewis told the Committtee: "We have said as an absolute, I have personally committed to the fact that we will implement each and every recommendation of each and every risk assessment." Back

186   See original ONE report HC 412, Q. 272. Back

187   Ev 41, para 21. Back

188   Ev 48. Back

189   Q. 110. Back

190   QQ. 45-6. Back

191   "The Jobcentre Plus offices have been designed by consultants who are specialists in Disability Discrimination Act requirements. Within the limitations of the current building stock being converted, the standard is to achieve maximum accessibility for disabled people" - written parliamentary answer by Maria Eagle, Minister for Disabled People, Official Report, 20 July 2001, col 701-02W. Back

192   Q. 351. Back

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