Memorandum submitted by the Public and
Commercial Services Union (PCS) (CS 01)
1. PCS, the Public and Commercial Services
Union, represents the overwhelming majority of staff employed
by the Child Support Agency (CSA). We previously submitted evidence
to the Social Security Select Committee in 1999 when the Committee
examined the Government's White Paper on Child Support Reform
2. PCS has always supported the Government's
plans to reform the CSA. Consequently we were very disappointed
when the Secretary of State announced the delay to the introduction
of the Child Support Reforms. However, PCS do believe that it
was the correct decision to take in the circumstances. The alternative,
of pressing ahead without a fully operational IT system, would
almost certainly have proved a disaster for the agency, its staff
and its customers. There was a real risk that the administrative
shambles of the agency's early years would have been repeated.
3. PCS welcomes the tributes made in the
House by the Secretary of State and others to the hard work that
our members have put in to improving the agency's performance
and ensuring greater compliance in recent times. However, many
of our members in the CSA do not feel as valued and appreciated
as they should. Staff morale is not good. A recent staff survey
showed that only 21.4 per cent of CSA staff felt that they were
paid fairly for the job that they do. This is below the Government's
benchmark of 24-34 per cent and way below the private sector benchmark
of 36 per cent. For the child support reforms to work this must
4. For nine years our members in CSA have
had to administer an excessively complicated system of child maintenance
with woefully inadequate IT support. At the same time our members
have had to serve clients of the agency, frequently frustrated
by the unfathomable legislation and the administrative failings
of the current system. This has not been an easy job. Our members
were therefore looking forward to the introduction of simplified
legislation which clients could understand with a new and improved
IT system to streamline the administrative process.
5. The Committee will no doubt want to focus
on the impact of the delay on the agency's clients who will have
to wait longer before enjoying the benefits of CSR. However, PCS
would suggest that the Committee might also want to consider the
6. Staff frustration with the current legislation
and IT system continues. As always it is CSA staff that will have
to bear the brunt of public dissatisfaction with both the inadequacies
of the current system and the indefinite delay to the introduction
of the new system. CSA staff are not responsible for the delay
but they are left to pick up the pieces. It is CSA staff, not
highly paid EDS executives, who will be left to explain to clients
why the reforms have not begun.
7. Staff have been left in limbo since the
announcement. There has been no indication of when a new start
date for the reforms will be set. The only business plan that
PCS has seen for 2002-03 makes no mention of the delay to CSR
and appears to have been written before the announcement. Staff
need to know what is going on. The current scarcity of information
about the future of the CSR Programme only serves to lower morale
and foster rumour.
8. A further blow to staff caused by the
delay to CSR has been the confusion surrounding the CSA's team
bonus scheme. The team bonus was due to have been paid this July
if the agency had successfully implemented CSR. Despite CSA staff
doing all that had been asked of them (ie meeting all of the Secretary
of State targets, increasing compliance and reducing work on hand)
the bonus may now not be paid because the others have failed to
deliver the new IT system on time. The vast majority of CSA staff
had no involvement at all in the development of the new IT system.
Yet our members seem likely to suffer financially as a result.
9. Staff morale in the CSA is also not helped
by the current reluctance of managers to release staff that want
to transfer to other parts of the Department. More and more of
our members' hopes of a career development move are being thwarted
by this arbitrary approach. If CSR is to succeed the agency needs
staff who want to work for CSA, not those who are forced to.
10. PCS concern for this is borne out by
the current fluctuating staffing levels and wastage/turnover levels.
Staffing is now between 12,200 and 12,500 and the turnover is
the highest in DWP at around 13-15 per cent. These problems led
to the CSA underspend in 2001-02 of £12.8 millionall
related to recruitment shortfalls. CSA management are seeking
DWP Board authority to recruit an additional 1,000 full-time equivalent
staff during this new financial year.
11. The fundamental problem for staff in
CSA is that they are paid far too little for what they are expected
to do. Doug Smith, CSA's Chief Executive, has repeatedly stated
his discomfort that half of the agency's staff are paid less than
£12,000 per year. This is despite our job being one of the
"most difficult and certainly the most harassing jobs in
the civil service" (Tam Dayell, MP, 20 March 2002).
12. Everyone seems to agree that our members'
work is excessively difficult and that the level of basic pay
is too low, but sympathy does not pay our members' bills. The
reforms will only work if CSA is able to recruit and retain good
quality staff. At present CSA has a staff wastage rate double
that of similar agencies like the Benefits Agency. This is unsustainable
if the reforms are to succeed and must be tackled as a matter
13. The principal benefit for the agency
of the delay is that it buys time. As well as continuing to develop
and test the new IT system the time can also be used to refine
some of the other elements of CSR that were not as polished as
they should have been for an April 2002 go-live.
14. PCS had serious concerns that the training
materials for the April 2002 go-live date had been developed too
late and had been excessively rushed as a result. We feared that
this could have left our members without the skills needed to
implement the reforms successfully. The delay must be used to
put this right.
15. CSR creates new job roles for staff.
Management propose to devolve to each individual caseworker much
greater accountability and responsibility for a case through the
end-to-end process. PCS are not opposed to this in principle,
however it does raise the question about whether the current pay
and grading arrangements for CSA's caseworkers will be appropriate
16. PCS have been pressing for a review
of the agency's grading to rectify this problem but to date little
progress has been made. The delay to CSR provides an opportunity
for this key element of the implementation of CSR to be addressed.
It is not acceptable for our members to take on extra responsibility
without this being recognised in the agency's rewards and remuneration
17. The delay will also allow the agency
the time to refine its proposals to extend the CSA's opening hours.
Already CSA is leading the way in the civil service in providing
a service to the public outside of traditional civil service opening
hours. However, the agency has an ongoing problem in recruiting
and retaining staff who are willing to work on alternative working
patterns (eg evenings and weekends).
18. It is clear to PCS that if CSA is serious
about providing a full service across an extended working week,
then this can only be achieved by offering staff considerable
incentives to alter their working patterns. At present little
progress has been made on this issue. The delay to CSR provides
the agency with the time to address this issue.
19. Perhaps the most serious impact of the
delay is to the agency's CSR Business Case. Hundreds of millions
of pounds have been spent on CSR to date, mainly on developing
the new IT system. The business case for this expenditure forecast
large-scale administrative savings to the Exchequer in the years
after CSR was implemented to fund the initial expenditure. The
delay means that the realisation of these benefits has been put
on hold indefinitely.
20. PCS fear that the Treasury is still
likely to expect to see the promised savings realised. We are
concerned that administrative efficiencies and reductions in staffing
levels will be implemented before CSR is fully established. This
could of course push the whole project off course as well as being
a serious concern for our members and their future jobs.
21. The announcement of the delay to CSR
is in danger of making the agency drift aimlessly while it waits
for a decision on a new go-live date. Staff, as we have said,
do not know what is happening and this could affect morale and
confidence. Clients of the agency do not know what is happening.
This needs to be addressed urgently to avoid clients slipping
into bad habits of non co-operation and non-compliance. A new
go-live date must be set as soon as possible. If this cannot be
done quickly then an open explanation as to the reasons why a
new go-live date cannot be set must be forthcoming.
22. The delay to CSR is obviously an embarrassment
to the agency and the Government. The Committee will doubtless
want to know how such a flagship project has gone so widely off
course. The Secretary of State has said that the principal cause
of the delay was the incomplete testing of the new IT system.
The principal culprit would therefore appear to be Affinity.
23. Affinity is the preferred private sector
partner of the DWP. It is a consortium consisting of the computer
company EDS and consultants such as PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It
was EDS who were contracted to design, build and deliver the new
IT system for CSA.
24. CSR is not the first large-scale public
sector IT project that EDS have failed to deliver properly. The
Committee will remember the chaos at the Passport Office a few
years ago when an EDS IT system was introduced. The delay to CSR
must call into question the extent to which EDS can be relied
upon to deliver what they promise, in respect of public sector
25. PCS is firmly of the view that EDS should
incur substantial penalties for failing to deliver the IT on time.
We are also concerned about other DWP modernisation projects that
are currently in the pipeline, such as the replacement of the
Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance computer systems as well
as the development of Jobcentre Plus and the Pensions Service.
26. PCS believe that the Government must
reconsider the status of its arrangements with Affinity/EDS before
trusting them again with major IT modernisation projects and millions
of pounds of public money. We cannot afford to risk a repeat of
CSR in other major DWP modernisation projects.
27. This matter is compounded by the recent
policy of contracting out virtually all of the DWP's IT experts.
This has left the Department without the essential expertise to
oversee, let alone run, a large IT project like CSR. The Department
was left with no choice but to trust the advice they were receiving
from EDS. The results of this short-sighted policy are what we
28. PCS have also been concerned for some
time about the number and cost of consultants that have been used
by CSA as part of the CSR programme. We believe that a real question
mark must now hang over the value for money that consultants provide.
If everything had gone according to plan then the excessive cost
of using so many consultants might have been justified. But the
fact is that the plans have gone awry. The expertise, effectiveness
and the value of consultants must be examined more rigorously
before more public money is committed to consultants in the future.
29. Clients who would have gained financially
are clearly a major loser of the decision to delay CSR. However,
as always with matters of child maintenance, for every winner
there is always a loser, so there will be other clients quietly
celebrating the delay.
30. CSR was to have seen the introduction
of the child maintenance premium for parents with care on income
support. This will now be delayed and so those families will remain
poorer for longer.
31. CSR was expected to drive up compliance
rates and ensure that more money was moving faster to children.
This will now be delayed. Those children will now not benefit
from this for some time.
32. Current clients of the agency still
do not know when they can expect to transfer to the new method
of calculating their maintenance. This uncertainty is very unsatisfactory
and could lead to greater client dissatisfaction with the agency.
33. In strategic terms, the Government's
drive to reduce child poverty has also been impacted by the delay.
The benefits of CSR have long teen trumpeted as a key element
of the Government's anti child poverty agenda. The delay will
obviously not help the Government achieve the challenging targets
that they have set themselves.
34. The delay to CSR is regrettable but
the only sensible option that was left. A new date for go-live
needs to be set as soon as possible. The intervening time must
be used to address all the issues that need to be resolved for
CSR to become a success. The IT system is very important but that
alone will not deliver a successful CSA.
35. In particular more attention needs to
be paid to meeting the justified concerns of our members working
for CSA that we have outlined above. The agency's greatest asset
is its staff, not an IT system or anything else. Now is the time
for that to be recognised substantively. The success of CSR depends