Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002
360. One of the things which certainly impressed
me and others too in America was the way the personal adviser
equivalents kept very much in touch with people when they were
placed in work, whether it was the intermediate labour market
or permanent employment, for some considerable time, sometimes
up to a couple of years afterwards, to make sure they were getting
support. If they were having problems with their job, for example
childcare or whatever, they would step in to try to sort out those
personal problems and to make sure that the job was sustainable.
I thought that was a very impressive way that they kept in touch
with people and helped them to do that. Is there anything Jobcentre
Plus can do to replicate that sort of activity to make sure that
we do continue to provide that support to the particularly disadvantaged
groups like lone parents and others when they are able to find
work, to make sure that they can sustain it?
(Mr Lewis) Yes, there is more that we can do and there
is some we already do. It is very much a part of the role of the
personal advisers within the New Deals to stay in touch with the
people they have been seeking to help after they go into employment.
It is part of the function of the personal adviser to try, particularly
in those early weeks, to stay in touch. We reinforced that this
year in that our targeting system, which is what our managers
are seeking to deliver, is giving extra credit where somebody
not only leaves JSA for work but does not return within a given
period. Personally, yes, I should like to go further and make
this a more standard part of our operation, to do more in terms
of staying in touch with individuals. Reality of course is important
here. We place 25,000 people into jobs every single week and that
is a very, very large number of people if we are going to try
to follow them all up to see where they have gone to and what
has happened. That is obviously a very, very large resource cost.
This is a direction we are moving in and I should like us to move
further down that road.
(Mr Brown) The point about "vulnerable"
is very well made.
361. The point I was going to come back on in
relation to that was that obviously it is more expensive if somebody
has been able to find a potentially sustainable job and then ends
up losing it because they have not had the support they need four
or five months down the track. Supposing it is a lone parent,
supposing they have a family crisis, the child is ill or something,
they cannot handle that, the net result is that they lose the
job. We know in America they phone up and make contact with their
personal adviser and they help them overcome that particular problem
so far as they can and that is very effective. The point I was
going to come back to, and I very well understand what you are
saying in terms of policy, was the practicalities of that, bearing
in mind the workloads that the personal advisers are working under.
How realistic is it to expect them to maintain contact with people
in this way once they have do get beyond one or two weeks, bearing
in mind that all the time there are new clients coming through
the door on whom they will presumably be much more focussed?
(Mr Lewis) The way that we work out the resourcing
of our personal advisers does allow them, is designed to allow
them, to spend a significant proportion of their time doing exactly
and precisely the task which you want them to do. Probably many
of my personal advisers, like many of my staff, would say it would
be wonderful if we were able to give them even more time to do
362. What proportion of time is allocated to
that sort of work?
(Mr Lewis) I cannot give you that off the cuff.
363. Can you write to us with that?
(Mr Lewis) Yes, I will.
We do try, in setting the average case loads for our personal
advisers and in specifying what it is, the nature of the job,
to build in that we do expect them to spend a proportion of their
time following up people they have placed into jobs for precisely
the reasons that you say.
364. That certainly does not seem to coincide
with the evidence we have had from the personal advisers themselves
via their unions and from our visits round the various Jobcentre
Plus sites. We shall wait to see what you put in writing. The
other point I wanted to come back to was the other side of the
coin. Quite rightly we do put the emphasis on sustainable jobs,
but a lot of those do face very severe barriers to employment.
Is there a risk that by putting all this emphasis on sustainable
jobs we effectively lose the more hard-to-place people in the
wash and do not recognise the fact that we have made progress
towards their employability if not actually finding them a job.
(Mr Brown) The services we are providing are intended
to be comprehensive and intended to endure even if the labour
(Mr Lewis) It is a balance inevitably. I would not
want to suggest either to the Committee that there is no value
to someone who has been out of the labour market for a very long
time going into a job even if regrettably they do not sustain
it. At the very least that person has come to the point where
employment became a reality for them again even if it was not
sustained for a long time. Of course it is desirable, hugely desirable,
if it is sustained. It may be that in some cases, for someone
who has been out of the labour market for a very long time, it
is going to take a couple of goes before they find a role they
can sustain. This is a balance because there are risks on both
sides of this line.
365. The point I was making also was that there
are some people who, even with help, are not actually going to
get into a job in the near future. The fact that you are cleaning
them up off drugs, you are helping them to get up in the morning
and so forth, is in itself quite an achievement for those, yet
that is not in any way reflected in the performance indicators
of the way the Department is run.
(Mr Brown) The performance indicators are very outcome
366. That is the point I am making.
(Mr Brown) It is a perfectly fair point.
367. You can have other outcomes which are moving
people closer to the labour market for which no credit is given
(Mr Richardson) As a result of the consultation we
conducted for the performance regime for Jobcentre Plus for the
current year, we agreed with the help of the National Employment
Panel to look at whether or not you could construct a target to
cover what is known in the jargon as distance travelled, which
covers exactly what you describe. So we are working on that with
a wide number of stakeholders at the moment.
(Mr Brown) In summary, the point is recognised. I
do not want to announce today some adjustment of what we do.
368. I want to move now to the complexity and
the administrative burden which is placed on people delivering
employment strategy on the ground. If I may quote one of the witnesses,
Mr Hawkhead of Groundwork, he told us "at any one time, one
of the people we employ to deliver projects on the ground is spending
30 per cent or more of their time simply filling in the forms
... That is bonkers". What is being done to ease this administrative
workload? Do you agree that is, in Mr Hawkhead's words, "bonkers"?
Are you making efforts to minimise form-filling, look at the complexities
of programmes with multiple eligibility criteria, different operational
rules and so on?
(Mr Lewis) Of course this is a real issue. I think
Tony Hawkhead also said that he found Jobcentre Plus one of the
most open and innovative thinking bits of Government he had had
to deal with. There is a balance here. I am the Accounting Officer
responsible for very, very large amounts of public money and that
public money has to be properly disbursed and accounted for and
I am ultimately personally liable for ensuring that is so. Therefore
we need to have some controls and balances and yes, some forms
in the system to ensure that when we are paying out public money
we pay it for the proper purposes and ensure that it is spent
on what it is intended to be. That said, it has been a common
complaint since the New Deals were introduced that there has been
too much bureaucracy associated with them and too much of the
time and effort of our providers, and indeed our own staff will
make the same complaint, has had to go into the administration
of those programmes rather than their delivery. We had several
goes at this and as a result of this we have cut the bureaucracy
and the form-filling back very substantially indeed, though not
yet to the degree which all of our providers would want or all
of our staff would want. Further down the line, one thing which
will help is much more electronic transmission of information
both ways, which will be coming, to get away from people having
to fill in complex paper-based forms. This is a balance. My personal
objective is to reduce the amount of administration to the absolute
minimum, which is compatible with my being able to have the necessary
degree of assurance that money is being spent for the purposes
for which it is intended.
369. We are absolutely with you on the accountability
for public funds and that clearly is not at issue. The issue is
the number of different schemes, the fact that many of them have
different funding timescales and different eligibility criteria.
Can you give the Committee any sort of commitmentI will
not tie you down to specific numbersthat you are looking
to reduce the sheer number of schemes and to make it easier to
apply and deliver them?
(Mr Lewis) Michael Richardson has already talked about
some of the ways in which we are looking at this. What I certainly
can say is that I am very much involved in those discussions which
do take place and are taking place, about whether it is possible
to reduce the degree of complexity which our staff and our providers
have to cope with.
370. I think Hackney has 21 different schemes,
not just employment. That is a huge number.
(Mr Brown) There are two separate issues. One is about
the schemes and we have said as much as we can about that as a
Department, though other Departments have their schemes as well
and we do try to co-ordinate what we do across Government. There
is a separate issue about funding streams. It is often said that
a great deal of administrative work could be eased if there were
one funding stream rather than a whole range of separate funders
to whom application has to be made. I understand the force of
the argument, but I would want to sound a note of caution about
that. Often the extra funding streams which reinforce the sort
of programmes that we want to see pushed forward are there for
very specific reasons. Some of them are area focussed, like the
objective 1 and objective 2 initiatives; others will be area based
Government supported schemes; others will be able to draw on private
sector or charitable funds in a way which directly supported Government
schemes cannot. There is a range of issues there which warrant
careful consideration. We will not be doing the people we want
to help very much good if by consolidating the budgets we find
that we have reduced the total amount of money available to the
purposes for which we are trying to apply them.
371. We understand from DTI officials that when
new legislation is introduced affecting employment strategy there
is an impact assessment. Is your Department consulted as part
(Mr Brown) I assume we are.
(Mr Richardson) Yes, it is.
372. The theme of this morning, indeed the theme
of much of this inquiry, has been a comment on the plethora of
different initiatives. We have heard about a number of them this
morning and also a plethora of different Government policies,
not just within your own Department but also across Departments,
which should all co-ordinate and deliver a co-ordinated employment
strategy. We have heard from one witness, Bridget Rosewell, who
said that there are places where co-ordination appears to be negative.
You almost feel policies are working in different directions.
What are the Department and Jobcentre Plus doing to make co-ordination
less negative and much more effective?
(Mr Brown) I hope that is not so. I certainly hope
that is not a direct criticism of the Department itself. We try
to be very positive in our approach to area-based initiatives
which may very well not be a lead in and try to provide a good
service, not just to the clients but also to the other group we
are trying to help, the employers, by making sure that we send
people who are work ready and suitable for the jobs on offer.
In other words it is intended to be entirely constructive.
373. There is obviously a difficult co-ordination
when you have Government agencies, main providers, some of which
will be private sector, some of which will be voluntary sector.
You have local authorities in there, you have the DTI, the Department
for Education and Skills. Bringing all of those things together
must mean that there may be gaps somewhere in any kind of strategy
or that there will be blocks where the co-ordination is not perhaps
good and not everybody will know everything which is going on
(Mr Brown) That is very true of modern life, is it
not? The fact that it is complex does not necessarily mean that
it is right.
(Mr Richardson) In the areas of deprivation the local
strategic partnership concept is designed to try to tackle the
problem you have described. They are encouraged in other areas,
not just the ones covered by the neighbourhood renewal fund and
there are similar arrangements in Scotland and Wales. That is
an attempt to make sure that the key players, who are working
initially on contiguous areas of policy which need mutual reinforcement
of the sort I described earlier come together on a regular basis
and try to make sure that the various streams of activity and
indeed funding are working in the same direction and not pulling
each other apart. It would be a bold person who pretended that
was happening in a perfect fashion everywhere. Some partnerships
have got off the ground faster and more effectively than others
and it will take some time. There is clear evidence of the intent
to try to do something about the problems you heard about. Without
chapter and verse of where they appear to be operating in a negative
sense, it is quite difficult to comment.
(Mr Lewis) Of course there are still examples of where
we collectively, all of those organisations, do not get our act
together. I have not seen a time in my career where there has
not been greater effort and determination to do so. One example
where we are doing much, much better than ever we did is where
we are reacting to major redundancy announcements. I know the
Committee took evidence on our response to the Vauxhall shutdown
in Luton. That is now widely replicated. There is a co-ordinated
approach which brings together the key local players, the key
local employer and the actors who can help to respond in a very
joined-up way. It is getting seriously better. It is not always
yet as good as it could be.
374. One of the criticisms we heard is the one-size-fits
all, the lack of the ability of local areas to have their own
autonomy, to be able to draw down a pot of funding which they
could decide how they would disburse or how they would deliver
all of the strategy in the area. We heard from Mr Webster from
Glasgow and he suggested that major cities could perhaps, if they
were able to propose a thoroughly thought-through package of employment
initiatives, be able to get the pot of money that they could then
disburse. We heard that in France there is more local autonomy.
Is that something which would be a workable proposal? Is it something
you are looking into, that local areas could in fact have that
kind of flexibility?
(Mr Brown) I do not want to hold out false hope. If
the intention is somehow to bid to the Department for a pot of
money which could be spent flexibly, we do not have a pot of money
which could be disbursed in that way.
(Mr Lewis) I thought Glasgow might make its appearance
this morning. There are an awful lot of examples in Glasgow of
people doing precisely what you want. The partnership which was
developed between Tesco, the local development company, ourselves,
to recruit people for their new store in Springburn and St Rollox
has resulted in 140 jobs going to long-term unemployed people
and that has become a model for activity elsewhere. That is not
something which we designed and developed as a model in some great
headquarters building in London or Leeds or Sheffield. That has
come out of local empowered managers working with their partners
locally. That is becoming more and more the norm, but not yet
375. Through all of this the relationships between
all of the providers plus the various Government Departments are
absolutely crucial. What mechanisms are in place to ensure that
that kind of relationship is on a more formal footing? The evidence
suggests that it tends to be a bit ad hoc. If they were
on the train from Sheffield to London, then the various people
could get together and chat through the various initiatives. We
did not get a sense that there is actually something which is
moreI am not talking about anything which is mechanisticformal
to ensure that these kinds of relationships are developed and
people are able to work out the difficulties which may crop up
from time to time.
(Mr Brown) Of the 88 area based initiatives we are
involved in something like 85 of them and the remaining ones are
not sufficiently well advanced. That is right, is it not?
(Mr Lewis) Yes. At local level it is increasingly
the local strategic partnership which is the key to this, on which
Jobcentre Plus is almost always now an absolutely key partner
amongst the group locally which forms that partnership. Michael
Richardson has described, and I to an extent have described, the
relationship which exists at national level, but it is the local
strategic partnership which is very much the key to this. It is
not the only partnership locally, but it is becoming more and
more important and we are in it.
376. We have two or three questions about childcare
to wind up with but that will mean I am going to have to leave
aside some bits of technical questioning which we would really
have liked to put to you. Maybe we could do that in writing.
(Mr Brown) I am more than happy.
377. In a sense it is childcare and co-ordination
and flexibility coming together. One of the things the Americans
are clearly good atand there is a lot they are notis
the scope for the Employment Service to provide the whole financial
package to get a child into day care. Even things like a special
needs child, where they cut through the system and pay for a special
classroom assistant to be there in the classroom so that the parent
does not have to keep being brought out of work. That was really
admirable. Whether it actually works in fact is a moot point,
but it certainly is the talk. What worries me a little bit about
the childcare provision at the moment is the relationship between
the on-the-ground lived experience by real working parents and
job seekers and childcare provision. It is a question which could
apply to other areas as well: skills and training in particular.
You say you are talking about monitoring childcare provision and
whether it keeps pace but what are we monitoring?
(Mr Richardson) We start from a very poor base in
this country and one of the main reasons why the rate of employment
of lone parents is as low as it is, although it has improved,
is because of poor childcare facilities and in particular affordable
childcare facilities. What the DfES-led national childcare strategy
is attempting to do is to remedy that situation overall. It is
tilted towards trying to remedy it in deprived areas first as
part of the national picture. Our role is to try to ensure that
the development of that strategy takes account of the actual needs
of our clients and in particular in areas where there are high
concentrations of lone parents. The availability and promotion
of childcare places and data on what is available is the responsibility
of the Early Years Partnerships in each local authority. They
are the main hub of expertise with which we need to connect. We
announced in the Budget the appointment of childcare co-ordinators
in Jobcentre Plus who would be appointed and are being appointed
in each district to hook up with the Early Years Partnerships.
We also have an internet based site which links jobs with skills
opportunities, access to childcare data through a clever window.
What we are monitoring is the way in which childcare opportunities
are being built up in areas where we want to get more lone parents
into work commensurate with their needs.
378. That is absolutely right and it is the
right approach. I am at a slightly unfair advantage because I
chair my Early Years Development Partnership and I am in one of
the 88 authorities, so I know. What I do not think we are anything
like doing, and that is why I am anxious to ask you to assure
me that you will build on this, is if you go into a Jobcentre,
admittedly six months ago as opposed to the new model, people
who are looking for work will be given a piece of paper with some
phone numbers on it. That is what they will be given. Nobody in
the Jobcentre has the faintest ideapre the new co-ordinators,
so that may workwhether that person does not take up a
job because of childcare. They have no idea. It is not monitored,
not collected. The affordability dimension is not there at all.
I am delighted you mentioned it, but it is not there so availability
of places is there but affordability is not. Places get measured,
but there is no sense at all that a full-time working parent will
probably need three places. If they are working a full-time day,
they will probably need somebody to take the child to school.
If they have an under-five they will need a childcare place in
the daytime. If they are working after three o'clock in the afternoon
they will need another childcare place between three o'clock and
five or six o'clock and then they need holiday care. Potentially
four if you have an under-five. I do not think we are matching
that at all, not even beginning to. I do not see how anybody is
collecting the data. I have no sense whatsoever yet that the Employment
Service is at the table with LSPs.
LSPs are being required to develop an employment strategy in the
context of a childcare and other barrier strategy. I do not know
whether you are asking them to. The policies are absolutely right
and the money is clearly going to childcare strategies and there
are more childcare places, but I get no sense at all that this
is all being matched up on the ground. I am looking for the confidence
that you are going to be sure that you know what is going on on
(Mr Lewis) I am more optimistic than you. I think
this bottle is half full. I think we are increasingly able to
deliver some of the kinds of things you want, both through our
personal advisers and because of our membership, though I think
it is an increasingly strong membership, of those local strategic
partnerships. The initiative which Michael Richardson mentioned,
whereby we are going to have a childcare co-ordinator in every
one of our 90 districts precisely to get a handle on this issue,
is going to be a major step forward. You are absolutely right
in elements of your analysis, but we recognise that and we have
already made some serious progress and we are going to make more.
Ms Buck: I am not being pessimistic about it.
The policies are the right policies coming into place. I am just
not convinced yet that we are getting the right measurements in
place for you to know at strategic national level, whether the
right mix for the individual person walking through the doors
is being put in place to meet their needs across a multi-agency
approach as is required. That is what we are looking for.
Chairman: It will be a feature of our recommendations.
That is a good place to end. My sense is that we hope to produce
what will be a helpful report in that it will be robust and will
make suggestions. There is no contention with the overall strategy;
I am sure you will be pleased to hear that. We shall try to help
in every way we can. I hope we shall be putting up some positive
suggestions for your further consideration; we consider it an
important part of our work to do that. The evidence session this
morning has been very valuable in helping us to understand that.
As usual, may we acknowledge the work your professionals do in
the Department. They are always of great assistance to us. Your
evidence this morning has reinforced that. Thank you for the written
evidence as well as the appearance.
7 Please refer to the letter to the Chairman of the
Committee from the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus (ES 17),
Ev 174. Back
Local Strategic Partnerships. Back