Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 299)



Miss Begg

  280. I am specifically looking at the co-ordination your Departments have with the DWP. The DWP is obviously undergoing a huge process of change and the amalgamation of the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency is the merging of two big organisations, big cultural distinct empires. To what extent do you consider that merging process is actually affecting your ability to liaise with Jobcentre Plus? Has the DWP and Jobcentre Plus started to look inwards because it is so involved in its reorganisation so the actual hope that you have of working in partnership with them is hindered in any way? Does it mean that there are barriers to getting a co-ordinated approach in tackling unemployment?
  (Mr Lauener) Any major reorganisation, and clearly the formation of DWP and Jobcentre Plus is a major change, puts pressure on an organisation but I have to say I have not found difficulty in securing the co-operation and the involvement of Jobcentre Plus colleagues or DWP colleagues in things that we are taking forward. For example, the work that we are doing with the Learning and Skills Council to develop arrangements for providers where the same provider might be operating for Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council, we have Jobcentre Plus involved on these key groups, they attend regularly and they provide a very full contribution. I recognise the strains on any organisation but I have not found it a problem.
  (Mr Beatson) As for Peter, I think relationships seem to be working very well.
  (Mr Riddell) Could I just add, the Departments I have worked in, we have always found the Employment Service very good at joint working and what is happening now is it is bringing the wider Benefits Agency into that. We would expect an improvement. The Employment Service has always been very good at regional and local levels as well at working with others.

  281. None of that has been lost with the fact the Benefits Agency has come in as well?
  (Mr Riddell) As Peter said, obviously there are organisation and transition things, taking one's eyes off the ball. One improvement is they are now coterminous with all the Government organisations which they were not before. That is a big help. It is at that level that you most need often to work together.
  (Mr Lauener) There is a better match at local level as well with the local Learning and Skills Councils. It is not perfect but there is a better match.

  282. The potential there is actually that once things move on it will be better.
  (Mr Lauener) Yes.

  283. The reason you are here today is because you are all responsible along with the DWP for delivering the Government's employment strategy. Is there one lead Department or is it the case that you get on with what you each do best and there is co-ordination? Are the old departmental boundaries still intact or is there a lot of cross-working with regard to the employment strategy? Who calls the shots?
  (Mr Lauener) My answer would be the DWP are clearly the lead on the employment strategy. In our Department we are clearly in the lead on the Skills Strategy and John Healey is the Minister for Skills across Government. He has a particular responsibility for liaising with ministerial colleagues in the DWP on the links between the skills and the employment strategies which are absolutely critical.

  284. Is it the DWP then that makes sure there is no overlap in what you are all delivering? Do you know if there is an overlap?
  (Mr Riddell) Of course there is potential overlap in what we are all delivering. The way the Government strategy has moved, of course there is more working at Whitehall level. The Government offices which three or four years ago worked only to three Departments now work to nine Departments. They do much less direct programme delivery and they have a specific role, the regional directors—since the Performance and Innovation Unit's report Reaching Out—in ensuring that things are joined up as they come down from Whitehall towards the local level. I noticed you had evidence earlier from the Luton-Vauxhall partnership, that is a good example where all the Departments concerned, the DTLR, the DTI, the RDA itself and the DWP, all put in different strands of money. Where there was a problem with one strand of money they found a way round it and put it in a different strand. So we had accelerated transport projects, extra DTI money and extra Employment Service money that all went in to support the Luton partnership which has now been merged within community forum or local strategic partnerships. A lot of that work takes place below Whitehall level and that feeds back up because there is a lot of effort now to co-ordinate. I have got people from the DWP in my unit and from the DfES.

  285. The actual cross working is as close as that.
  (Mr Riddell) It is not always perfect all the time.

  286. What about if one of your Departments fails to meet an employment target? We have heard quite a lot this morning about "We know the will is there, perhaps the strategy is there but whether it is delivering on the ground". Who takes responsibility for, I was going to say, kicking butt, you know what I mean, making sure if there are these gaps in provision that have been identified—who is responsible for identifying the gaps in provision—that the gaps are filled and where the strategy is not actually working to ensure that it is changed, it is tweaked, it is reconfigured in order to make it work?
  (Mr Lauener) One point I would make on that is the focus the Government has had on targets and then on supporting the key PSA and other targets with delivery plans is actually forcing much greater clarity of thinking about who needs to do what to reach a particular target. That greater clarity for example, I come back again to the basic skills target, is making it quite clear to us in the DfES who leads on that target, what contribution we need to expect from the DWP and Jobcentre Plus to meet that target. Then that needs to be codified and agreed and we need agreement about exactly what is going to happen. If that does not happen there is a clear line back, you know, "You agreed you would do that but you have not". I think that kind of clarity is a good thing to produce. That can come from targets. At a strategic level it is clearly less focused on particular measurables, is it not, and I think it is important to have high level discussions between Ministers and between senior officials.

  287. Are you convinced that where the strategy is found wanting, that it is not delivering, that there are mechanisms in place across all Departments and the DWP to ensure that is changed, to ensure either the policy changes because the policy is wrong or the strategy changes because it is not delivering what it is intended to deliver? How confident are you that what you have in place is responsive to this?
  (Mr Riddell) The trouble is you cannot be too simplistic about that. It may be something where a national strategy is clearly not delivering. Where you come across something where there is a gap it takes longer to work through who might be responsible. All I can say is that there is actually much more feedback now than there ever used to be. There are actually Cabinet committees now who have the responsibility. The DA(SER)[16] Committee, which John Prescott chairs, has the responsibility for taking delivery of messages that come up from local level about things which are not working or gaps. These things are supposed to be fed through policy making but it is pretty complex. Some things are quicker than others.

  288. The reason I have been asking those questions is because we have some concerns that overall there are more people in work, unemployment appears to be coming down but there are serious problems in particular areas with particular groups. It is whether the strategy you have all got in place is so broad brush that, yes, they are working in the areas they are going to work in anyway but in fact they are not targeted as directly as they need to be for particular groups, whether it is ethnic minorities, whether it is in the areas of local authorities who are not delivering a particularly effective employment strategy. How good are you at making sure that the employment strategy is targeting these areas and these groups and the co-ordination with the DWP and the Jobcentre Plus is working?
  (Mr Lauener) Again, if I can offer a view on that. I think we are quite good where we have got the precision of national targets which can be drilled down. I think maybe we are less good where there is a less specific target. I think the frameworks which have been put in place are good and have the potential whether it is a Local Strategic Partnership or the local planning that the LSC is producing in the education, training and skills area. I think these are good mechanisms which encourage and force local partners to work effectively together. A lot of these things do need to be sorted out locally but we need to be able to drill down when we get messages or figures or surveys or whatever that show things are beginning to go wrong. I think we have the framework through which local partners can make things happen locally. We have got a lot of key national targets which we do drill down on in the way that I have described but we need to be alive to feedback where there may be particular issues which may not be happening locally which we may need to drill down on. I think that is where Alan's point comes in about the issue about feedback and making sure there is a process.
  (Mr Riddell) Yes. I think, for example, in somewhere like Easington it is very difficult to deliver the success of the policy just because the possibilities of economic growth are so limited, so many people are out of the market for one reason or another, Incapacity Benefit or whatever, it is very difficult to deliver success there. With the RDAs and the Government Offices and the local agencies, they are all expected to pull together and have a local strategy. Each region, for example, in the spending round put in a paper to the Treasury on regional priorities and that was sitting there as part of the template for looking at issues. These things are not perfect but they are much, much better than they were just a few years ago. We are certainly very good at identifying the problems but bringing it right through to being absolutely sure that we got the right solutions is more difficult.
  (Mr Riley) If I could just add something on the local public service agreement system. The local PSAs may include targets for employment. It is not mandatory, it depends on the circumstances. But in so far as they do, then local authorities will have a strong financial incentive to achieve these targets because the Government rewards local authorities who achieve their targets, as measured at the end of the period to which they apply, with additional grant. There is a mechanism in place to provide incentives for the achievement of targets.

Rob Marris

  289. We are talking about co-ordination and you are obviously senior and distinguished in your own Departments but have you met before? How much liaison have you had before?
  (Mr Riddell) Three of the four of us meet quite often. I do not know Mark at all.


  290. That is a pass mark.
  (Mr Beatson) I used to work with Chris.

  291. There is a series of quite technical but important questions about RDA frameworks. I understand that last July the Government invited the regional development organisations to put frameworks in place, I think by October 2002 if my memory serves me accurately. Which of your three Departments would be most appropriate to address a couple of written questions to by way of a note from us?
  (Mr Beatson) It is the DTI.

  Chairman: It is the DTI more than anyone else. Mark, if you would take that on it would save us some time because they are of a technical nature.

Mr Dismore

  292. One of the things we have heard from the various skills providers over the course of this inquiry is the plethora of different schemes run by Government with different application forms, different timescales, different rules and regulations resulting in a great deal of duplication of effort filling in lots of different forms which frankly is very difficult and time consuming. To what extent do you try and co-ordinate all of these schemes between you so that you can try and minimise this red tape and allow people to get on with the job instead of having to chase the funding stream from all sorts of different sources at the same time?
  (Mr Riddell) I do not think you will find anyone in the Government who disagrees with that.

  293. What are you doing about it then?
  (Mr Riddell) There are several cross-cutting studies going on as part of the Spending Review. There is one on regeneration spending, there is one on voluntary sector spending.


  294. Could we have a list of these cross-cutting studies?
  (Mr Riley) I think they are on the Treasury website.

  295. Of course.
  (Mr Riddell) We can certainly provide that.[17]

  296. The answer to everything is on the Treasury website.
  (Mr Riddell) We can certainly send it in. One of the things I am trying to do just now is talking to other Departments, even if we cannot reduce the number of streams, to try and simplify the application procedures and the monitoring procedures and so on. The message we get from local level is we cannot get rid of all these funding streams. That is very difficult because twice in my career we have set up the SRB and before that the Urban Programme, they manage for a year or two and then people come and set up other new initiatives. At the moment we are trying a second strand of simplifying the application procedures and monitoring, which I think we would have to do at regional level, but that work is not very far advanced I have to say.
  (Mr Lauener) This is possibly the most difficult challenge you have given us this morning. The two things particularly between ourselves and the DWP but also involving other Departments is we are developing arrangements for the co-financing of the European Social Fund which I think will significantly streamline the—

  297. Do you mean match fund? When you say co-financing do you mean providing the matching funding to access the ESF?
  (Mr Lauener) The co-financing model is where organisations like Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council become the co-financing organisations, they do the matching funding at that level and that should take a lot of the—

  298. I did not think that was allowed under the EU rules, central government could not provide match funding.
  (Mr Lauener) The proposals for co-financing have been agreed with the EU. I think many other countries do very similar things. We expect that will lead to significant savings in effort and also risk at local level where there have been many cases where providers have put a lot of effort into these bids sometimes for no return or sometimes they end up with something that does not work and they have a big repayment. That is a significant improvement. The second one is much more of a cross-departmental initiative, something called "Getting the Best from Each Other" which started within the old Department for Education and Employment and has been taken forward now in a number of Departments, including the Home Office and the Regional Co-ordination Unit. That is to establish a set of principles and to some extent a common database for working with the voluntary sector and other providers, not just for training but also community support services. We hope that will establish a common framework for managing those relationships and it is widely welcomed.
  (Mr Riddell) The Neighbourhood Renewal Fund in itself comes in as a block grant where there are not the usual grant claim procedures and it goes effectively to the local authority so you do not have to put in all the forms to the Department in the way you did with the SRB. There are certain things going on just to make it easier.
  (Mr Beatson) In terms of the DTI the creation of the Small Business Service itself was designed principally for that, to have one place where small businesses can seek advice. The Department is currently reviewing its own structure and the plethora of schemes for business support. Of course, one observation on this is one tends to find that there are a multiplicity of problems and that generates a demand for a multiplicity of potential solutions. It is a constant tension managing the process between simplicity and delivery and designing interventions which tackle specifically the problems that businesses and individuals face.

Mr Dismore

  299. Perhaps Alan could give us a note, I will not go into detail now, about the links between urban regeneration projects and the intermediate labour market and to what extent you are working with the DWP on that.[18] The question for all three of you is we have looked at your individual work and the work between you but what we have not examined is how you feel co-ordination could be improved between your individual Departments and the DWP, where there is potential for a greater, closer working relationship?
  (Mr Lauener) I have probably commented most about that already. Because of our shared history we have worked well with DWP which now brings in the Benefits Agency. But we have got a history with the Department for Education and Employment, we have got good working links. In my own particular case I see a lot of Jobcentre Plus colleagues on the train from Sheffield to London, so I can strongly recommend that as a good networking process. The big thing for us is to make sure that we put in the mechanisms and processes and think hard where we are setting up groups that we involve each other so that we do not operate just on the basis of the fact that we know each other quite well because that will last for two or three years and then run down but that needs to be constantly refreshed. I think the Department at senior level and ministerial level need to have frequent dialogue, and they do.
  (Mr Beatson) Yes. Clearly there is ministerial dialogue between the DTI and indeed DfES which is a regular and important part of this. I have said already, relationships seem to work quite well.

16   Domestic Affairs (Social Exclusion and Regeneration). Back

17   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Transport-formerly the DTLR- (ES 12A), Ev 127. Back

18   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum submitted by the Department for Transport-formerly the DTLR-(ES 12A) Ev 127. Back

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