WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002

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Members present:

Mr Archy Kirkwood, in the Chair
Miss Anne Begg
Ms Karen Buck
Mr Andrew Dismore
Mr Paul Goodman
Mrs Joan Humble
Rob Marris
Mr Andrew Mitchell
Andrew Selous
Mr David Stewart

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Memorandum submitted by the Department for Works and Pensions

Examination of Witnesses

RT HON NICK BROWN, a Member of the House, Minister of State for Work, MR LEIGH LEWIS, Chief Executive Designate, Jobcentre Plus, and MR DAVID STANTON, Director of Analytical Services and Chief Economist, Department for Work and Pensions, examined.

Chairman

  1. Ladies and gentlemen, can I call the Committee formally to order. Can I welcome the Minister, Mr Brown. Nick, thank you very much for appearing this afternoon. Can I say straight away that as usual the standard of support we have had from the Department by way of written submissions has been excellent. We would like you to make a special point of thanking those who have prepared them for us. You have brought Leigh Lewis who, of course, we know well from the last Parliament when we did a joint Committee and David Stanton from the Department. Maybe the best thing would be for you to make a short statement just to say how you think things are standing at the moment and introduce a little bit what Leigh Lewis and David Stanton are actually doing for the record. Then we will proceed with the questioning from there if we may.
  2. (Mr Brown) Thank you very much, Chairman. Can I begin by thanking you for the kind words that you have said about the support that officials have given this inquiry, I am grateful for that. The issues here, as you know I am relatively new to this ministerial job, I have been in it for six months now, we are going over an area that has developed since 1997. Having said that, I do welcome the Committee's interest and inquiry, and not just into the ONE Pilot itself but the evolution of Government policy leading up to the launch of Jobcentre Plus which is, of course, the flagship policy which I have responsibility for. Leigh Lewis, as you know, is the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus and David Stanton is our Director of the Analytical Services Division in the new Department, the Department for Work and Pensions. I think it might help the Committee if I set both the pilot and Jobcentre Plus in its context. It is the policy of the Government to create an active welfare system, in other words to create opportunity and to help people to become self-sufficient and independent. In other words, it is our view that work is the best route out of social exclusion and poverty. It is a manifesto commitment. It is at the heart of the Government's policies, not just in the Department for Work and Pensions but over at the Treasury it is one of the themes that shapes taxation policy, it is one of the themes which underpinned our policy on the Minimum Wage. We believe in an active labour market policy like the New Deal. It has to be underpinned, as I say, by policies which make work pay. Indeed, that is one of the key themes which emerged from the ONE Pilot, that people want to discuss the interplay between their wages and the benefits that they currently get as they consider work opportunities. As the Committee will be aware, we started in 1997 to change the culture and whole approach to benefits and employment. Indeed, one of the objectives of the ONE Pilot was to underpin this cultural change, to encourage people to look to work as the pathway out of poverty. Now, I think it is important to realise that ONE was a pilot, we learnt lessons from it. Not everything that the ONE Pilot told us came directly from the pilot itself but it was a real attempt at joining up the Benefits Service, at least the front of house Benefits Service, and the services offered by the old Employment Service, what was the Department of Employment. It had four key objectives. We wanted to put benefit recipients in touch with the labour market. We wanted to help more benefit recipients in to work in a proactive way, in other words work alongside them as mentors, as personal advisers, rather than merely show them what jobs were available and leave them to get on with it. We wanted to make sure that the service was tailored to the needs of the customers, the needs of our fellow citizens. We wanted to underpin this cultural change. We wanted people to look more to the world of work rather than a continuing dependence on benefits. Now there are a range of lessons that we have learnt from the ONE Pilot but I guess at the heart of the Committee's inquiry will be why did we move on to Jobcentre Plus when although we had the early evaluation of ONE there were still more lessons to learn. The answer to this - and I have discussed it carefully with the Secretary of State who remembers all this fairly well - is it became clear pretty early on that it was this interplay between benefits and employment, taking a job, that was at the heart of many of our clients' enquiries. In other words, people were not very willing to consider work until they were absolutely certain as to what their benefit entitlement was and that they had been reassured as to what any change in their circumstances would mean for their income. There is nothing illogical in all of this but it really says to us loud and clear, and pretty early on - indeed it was underpinned by the formal studies which were undertaken a little bit later - that people want to know their financial position and worry about the move from benefits to work. Two other things became clear as well. We needed to focus on jobs, and the feeling was that the ONE Pilot was perhaps over-focused on process, cultural change, but not actually focused sufficiently on the need to move people, what is at the heart of this, the need to move people from benefits into work. We wanted programmes which were more work focused. The third point which emerged pretty clearly and pretty early on was that although the front of house work, the link up with local authorities, with local groups and others with an interest in trying to tackle these issues, partly from the point of view of tackling social exclusion, although all of that was well done and valued, indeed valued by the people who took part as well as by the client groups, it was clear that we had a job to do to sort out the back of house issues as well. In other words, how the benefit was calculated, how the different systems talked to each other and the need to develop a unified service became clearer and clearer and clearer. It was those three themes essentially which underpinned the other experimental work which I know the Committee has taken an interest in. The Action for Jobs area with its outreach work and the flexibility that the officials have but also, of course, the creation of Jobcentre Plus, hence the move to Jobcentre Plus and the current roll out.

  3. Minister, that is an excellent and valuable opening statement. I hope your colleagues, Mr Lewis and Mr Stanton, will feel free to pitch in with any supplementaries to the questions which we are about to address to you. I should have said at the beginning - and this is being addressed to my colleagues as much as to anyone else - the Committee's proceedings this afternoon are being webcast so we all have to use the microphones as we are being prompted to properly otherwise you will not be heard in New Zealand or wherever it is people are watching on the internet, so that is a warning or whatever you like to think of it as being. Can I start, and I do not want to spend a lot of time on this, we have heard in the course of the inquiry that there have been some consequences of the industrial dispute with PCS about the screens issue. We met that in a couple of our visits, it was pretty unavoidable. Certainly I have no intention of getting the Committee to take a view on what is a difficult industrial dispute because it is not our position. There was an incident on Friday which we have had some supplementary PCS evidence about. I do not know if you have had a chance to see it but I would not mind a reaction. Really it is a question that deals as much with trends rather than perhaps individual incidents because the case that PCS are making is that the incidents of violence are increasing. Obviously if that is the case that will be a matter of some concern because it could thwart the philosophy behind the change. Can you give us some reassurance that the industrial dispute is being dealt with and that you feel you are confident that the screen issue is not going to interfere with the possibility of developing the full potential of Jobcentre Plus?
  4. (Mr Brown) Can I make some general points and then I will ask Leigh Lewis as the Head of the Service to comment on the operational details. The policy is for Ministers but the operation is clearly for Leigh. There is a boundary there which I would not want to step over. I deeply regret the dispute between ourselves and the trade unionists who are, after all, our staff, our employees and when this is over will be working to deliver what is a brand new service with new equipment and substantial investment in premises. I am very enthusiastic about the changes we are making, about Jobcentre Plus. I know the Committee has visited, I think, one Jobcentre Plus site.

  5. Yes.
  6. (Mr Brown) I have been to six now and have been very struck by the enthusiasm of the people who are working to deliver the service. There are employees of the Department who are very committed to what it is the Department is doing as well as employees of the Department who have reservations on safety issues and are involved in the dispute. We have all got to come together once this is over and I want us to be able to do it in a friendly and focused way and for the Department to be a good and safe place to work. Also, I believe that we ought to be able to make common cause, as a Government, as management and as employees, on the issue of safety. It is offensive to me if public servants fear for their safety or feel that they are physically at risk. They are delivering the public service that we employ them to deliver and they should be able to do it in a safe working environment. The question that is outstanding between ourselves and the union is how best to do this. There is no difference in principle on wanting to secure a safe environment for our employees. It is the Government's clear view - let there be no misunderstanding about this - that the sort of services and the cultural change that we want to make through Jobcentre Plus cannot be delivered in anything but a predominantly unscreened environment. Of course we are retaining a screened environment Jobcentre cluster by Jobcentre cluster for specific episodes, either for people who are deemed to be of a high risk or incidents, particular episodes, which we believe contain a risk. The majority of the service, as I say, we believe has to be delivered in an unscreened environment and early evidence from the Jobcentre Plus is that the new design, treating people in a very different way than they might have been used to, is having an effect in itself. People respect the premises, like being treated in a human way, like being seen straight away, like the ability to give information over the telephone, like being able to make an appointment, have it kept and not be kept waiting and like the idea that there is an adviser there who is not just saying "See if you can get one of these jobs" but is taking a serious interest in what jobs are available and how the individual goes about getting it.

  7. There was a man swinging a chain on the second floor of Harlesden on Friday.
  8. (Mr Brown) There have been 600,000 people go through Jobcentre Plus since we launched the 53 pilots in the autumn. You cannot extrapolate public policy from the behaviour of just one person. Are you going to take the service away from the other 599,999 people because of the behaviour of one person? The account that has been given in the union submission may well not set out the full circumstances. Of course ministers have asked for an inquiry into it and we are expecting to get the details. My understanding of what happened does not quite square with what has been said in the note that has been sent to you.

  9. I do not want to get bogged down in this.
  10. (Mr Brown) I do not either. Perhaps I can ask Leigh to say something about the individual incident. What I am saying, it is not typical.

  11. Mr Lewis may want to contemplate whether the Harlesden incident is typical or not in the context of the PCS further submission we have just received. At paragraph 10 it says that in the Benefits Agency in the year 2000, the last year there is data for, there were 5,094 reported incidents in comparison with 2,455 in 1999. That is over a 100 per cent increase. It is the trend, Nick, that I am worried about. Maybe there are individual circumstances and maybe we do not know the full picture of what went on last Friday but I am actually not as interested in that.
  12. (Mr Brown) Yes, but the rising tide of figures is because there has been a campaign to make sure that every single incident is reported. That is a campaign that has been backed by the union and backed by the management.

  13. I would hope every incident would always be reported, with due respect.
  14. (Mr Brown) No. Very few of those incidents are actually incidents of violence. Most of them are where people have not liked the decision and hard words have been exchanged. I am not minimising that. Sometimes that can be very vigorously done and very unpleasant for the person on the receiving end. It is just not fair to paint a picture, and certainly not a picture of Jobcentre Plus, as if these are fundamentally dangerous workplaces, they are not.

  15. There is a trend. Reassure me about the trend, Mr Lewis?
  16. (Mr Lewis) I would like to say, Chairman, just a couple of things to begin with. I regret any incident which takes place in any of our offices. One incident is one incident too many. Also, this is not for me an academic issue, I have a personal accountability and responsibility for the safety of those people who work for me. That is a responsibility I take very seriously indeed and I regret that the current dispute is there. The incident at Harlesden was a difficult and serious incident. Fortunately there was no injury whatsoever to any member of staff or customers and in the light of that we will, of course, look at the risk assessment at Harlesden again to see whether it causes us in any way to change the safety precautions that are there. I think we do need to put this in its context. Every day 200,000 people come in to offices of the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency. On average there is slightly over one incident a day anywhere in Britain in those 1,500 offices where there is any physical contact, however minor, between a customer and a member of staff. It is an issue as to how do we ensure the absolute maximum possible safety of our staff whilst not treating the vast majority of people who come into our offices and behave utterly and perfectly reasonably in a way in which we would not ourselves or our families want to be treated. The other thing I want to say is this. If what we are about is simply taking the existing service of, say, the Benefits Agency and taking the screens down then I would not be comfortable in our staff working in that environment. That is not the case. What we have introduced in Jobcentre Plus is a wholly and fundamentally different way of delivering a greatly improved and a much more individual and personal service to our customers. There is a huge amount of evidence from this country and abroad that when you treat people in a more civilised way in a more welcoming environment, then their behaviour in turn becomes altogether different and vastly better. That has been borne out in this country, it has been borne out by experience elsewhere in the world and it is thus far being borne out in the Jobcentre Plus office itself.

  17. Just a quick final supplementary on the issue of the industrial dispute. Can you assure us that there has been no detrimental effect on the turn round of benefit payments and the appeals and things like that? I hear stories that some of the pathfinder projects, the interim payment procedures are to be put as manual payments as a result. Is it holding you back in terms of processing?
  18. (Mr Brown) I am not going to conceal from the Committee that the dispute is making things difficult for us. Our employees are all needed and are all wanted. If they go on strike of course it is disruptive. We have contingency plans which have so far held up and been robust and we are delivering the service in a way. I do not think any individual will have suffered but we are not delivering it - let me be quite candid with the Committee - in the way in which we would ideally want to. I very much look forward to the day when we have everyone back at work and all working together in a safe working environment for a common purpose. Could I just invite David to say something on whether the figures that you quoted earlier are actually comparable year on year. I believe that they are not. David, would you say something?

    (Mr Stanton) I think it is worth very briefly saying that they are statistics about recordings of incidents from which we have to deduce what the trend in incidents is. The figures which have been quoted to you are for two years, one of which, as Lewis pointed out, was a year in which special efforts were made to ensure that full recording took place. I think you need to look at figures in the context of more than two years and we would be quite happy to send you a note on that. I think it is difficult to see a complete trend out of two figures.

    Chairman: A brief supplementary from Andrew then I want to move to the principles.

    Mr Dismore

  19. When we visited the Jobcentre Plus office in Yorkshire and met some of the staff, they were not particularly hostile to the policy but what they were concerned about was that some of the assurances they had been given about the detail of the safety work had not been delivered. For example, they were complaining that their computers were not bolted to the desk and could be picked up and thrown about. There was a catalogue of half a dozen small things which altogether they felt combined to make the situation less safe than it should have been. Can you give us an assurance that all the nitty detail in each of the offices will be properly attended to and we will not have these sort of complaints once the dispute is settled?
  20. (Mr Brown) On the question of the computers, my understanding is that there is a restraint on the computers but they are not bolted to the desk so the adviser can turn them around and share information with the person who has come for advice. If there was no restraint there at all, I can promise you we will look at that.

  21. That was the impression we were left with. It was not just that, there were quite a few of these little details which together combined to make these complaints.
  22. (Mr Brown) We have made big efforts with the risk assessments on each of the sites and although they follow a common pattern, they do all have individual features of their own. I do not know, Leigh, if you want to say anything on the detail point?

    (Mr Lewis) Yes. First of all, I am happy to give the assurance you seek, just to be absolutely clear. 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. To the best of my knowledge and belief, that has been done. Indeed, before any of the pathfinders offices were allowed to go live - and I sought this personally - I asked for a written assurance in each individual case that every single measure recommended by the risk assessment was in place and working. I have personally charged my field directors with ensuring that situation continues.

    Mr Dismore: Perhaps you could check the one in Yorkshire for us.

    Chairman: Okay. That took a little bit longer than I had anticipated. I think it was important to get that. We have now got a series of seven or eight areas of questioning which I would like to try and get through as quickly as I can. If we could have precise questions and precise answers because time is always the enemy.

    Mr Mitchell

  23. Minister, we have spent some time now looking at the ONE Pilot and my understanding is that this is a pilot scheme to marry together advice on benefits with advice on work, the marriage of these two things to change the culture in which the service operates. Now, you are a hard working and honest minister. You will have looked at these results. It is in the nature of pilots that they should be assessed in a very honest way. My perception is that the ONE Pilots have, first of all, been extremely expensive and, secondly, they have basically failed. What I would like you to comment on is this. As I understand it, the Department's own research makes clear that there is, through the ONE Pilot, basically no effect at all on getting people back into work, that this marriage, which I understand to have been at the heart of the pilot process, has simply not worked, there is no evidence that it has worked at all and that you are now going to roll out the Jobcentre Plus, which is a similar scheme and I want to come back to that on a supplementary. Even the role of the private sector who - and we have had evidence from them - appear effectively to have had both hands tied behind their backs and to have been shackled by the trade unions in what they can do. They have not had a free rein to bring private sector expertise to bear, in fact I am really very surprised that they are still willing to be involved. It seems to me to have been a pity that even in that area where some of their ingenuity might have helped develop your pilot it has not happened. Is not the position really that it has been a failure, and we should recognise that, in seeking to serve the clients we are obviously trying to serve?
  24. (Mr Brown) There are actually three questions in there.

    Chairman

  25. He is only allowed two.
  26. (Mr Brown) He has managed three, nevertheless. On the private sector involvement, each of the private sector organisations has actually attempted to carry out its tasks in slightly different ways, they have had different approaches to it and it is after all a pilot and we are learning from that. I think if they have a quarrel it is more likely to be with the Treasury than with the trade unions. The fact of the matter is we do have to put safeguards in place for the proper protection of the public purse. It has not been our intention to stifle innovation but I understand from earlier evidence the Committee has received that some of the private sector organisations see it that way. I hope that this is not a running sore because, of course, in the world of employment the private sector has an important part to play, not just for recruiting to their own organisations but as recruitment specialists in certain areas. It is always going to be an area where the state will have an interest and the private sector will have an interest as well. On the question of the early findings from the ONE Pilots, it was a pretty early look at how the pilots had gone on. I think it will be too soon to try and draw firm conclusions as to whether ONE has made a difference as opposed to what was going on in non ONE areas with the labour market itself. What we do know - and the evidence is overwhelming, and the Committee I know has received a great deal of it - is that our proactive approach to the labour market through the New Deals does make a difference.

    Mr Mitchell

  27. That is a wider matter.
  28. (Mr Brown) Yes. We will know the answer to that, even for the ONE Pilots, when there is a final study as they are brought to a conclusion in 2002. I think to try and expect results from the very early study, the 1998 study, is just asking for too much too soon. I do not think it is safe to draw firm conclusions from that. Your other point was on value for money. The expenditure profile is something like 31 million, 39 million and then I think it declines slightly, largely because some of the ONE Pilots are amalgamating into the Jobcentre Plus offices where as they roll out there is a slightly declining profile of expenditure over time. About a sixth of that - and these are very rough figures but it gives you an idea of it - is money that the state would have spent anyway, it is money that would have been spent through the Employment Service or through the Benefits Service and the rest is new money for the pilot. I think we have learnt valuable lessons and we are continuing to learn valuable lessons from the pilot. There are a wide range of different things which are being tested: how public service is delivered, how we can join up with local authorities, whether the private sector can make a difference. I think it is right to give all these different areas a fair chance which is one of the two reasons why we have extended the pilots for an additional year. Then, of course, there will be a study at the end of it and all of that will come into the public domain. I would strongly defend Government spending money - and these are relatively small sums of money given the Department's total budget - on piloting a range of different ideas and a range of different providers to see how we can make a difference.

  29. I agree with you entirely about the importance of piloting but obviously it is extremely important that people are realistic about results. What you appear to be saying is that "Yes, there is no evidence at all that it has worked so far but we have got a lot more evidence to look at"?
  30. (Mr Brown) No. I have said it is too early to look at the first study of the ONE Pilots to draw any firm conclusions either way about whether it proactively made a difference on the job market. Indeed, that was one of the factors which was in the Secretary of State's mind when he went for the Jobcentre Plus model for the Service. There are other lessons we can most certainly draw, like the fact that clients liked the ability to give information over the telephone, to come in and be dealt with proactively and even the early study shows that a much larger number of people who went through the ONE Pilots believed that it had made a difference to them, that cultural shift was happening on something pretty early on. Actually I think that is quite an important finding. It is certainly reinforced by early evidence from the Jobcentre Plus pilots where the response from the public and from the staff who are working in the Service is not just positive but overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

  31. I hear what you say and I have to say, from what I have seen so far, the facts do not defend the value which you have said exists in the scheme. I would just end really by saying that the Jobcentre Plus scheme which is now proceeding is rather less ambitious than the wording that was set out at the start of the ONE plus approach. There are no mentions of some of the earlier higher motives which were ascribed to the pilot scheme. It seems to me that if it is, as you described it in your opening remarks, a flagship policy, it is a pretty waterlogged flagship.
  32. (Mr Brown) Yes. This is a difference of political opinion rather than an evidence based discussion.

    Chairman

  33. We cannot have differences of political opinion, that would be too difficult.
  34. (Mr Brown) Yes. Perhaps.

    Mr Mitchell

  35. I am seeking to focus on the evidence of success of the pilot schemes.
  36. (Mr Brown) My answer to that is that the evidence is early and that the Government has made substantial changes to the way in which we deliver the services which are reflected in the Jobcentre Plus model rather than in the ONE Pilot model. The only missing element that I think you could fairly point to - I do not see why I should do this for you but since we are old friends let me draw your attention to it - is that the links with local authorities are very different in Jobcentre Plus than they are with the ONE Pilot. The reason for that is that the changes we are now making in the Department in drawing the former Employment Service and the Benefit Service together are a substantial series of changes, it is going to take us time to do it. We are addressing - this is really as a result of the ONE Pilot findings - the back of house issues, in other words the fact that the technology is very old and you might say to me "Well, why was it not renewed earlier" and you can guess what I might say back.

  37. If I may rest on this point, Chairman, before being led in this mellifluous language on to a - if I may mix my metaphors - red herring, your very language that goes with Jobcentre Plus is much less exciting in terms of what you can deliver for clients than it was in ONE Pilots. I suspect that is because, sadly, the important piloting process has shown it simply has not worked properly?
  38. (Mr Brown) I actually do not agree with any of that but there is no point in saying the sort of "did/did not" across the table. David, do you want to say something?

    (Mr Stanton) Can I just say something about the evaluation of the evidence. When we set up the evaluation strategy for ONE, we were quite clear that we were not going to get a perfect experiment with policy on hold until all the evidence came in. We were deliberately setting it up to produce a lot of quite fast information about whether it worked in the sense if you have mandatory work focused interviews does it really upset the process or do people cope with it? We have all that evidence and that is effectively the design of Jobcentre Plus. In a sense it is the evaluation which is supportive of what then happened. I think there is quite a lot of evidence that is there. On the employment effect, which was one of the four objectives of the evaluation, I think it is true that it is too early. You have to remember that in the control areas it was not as if nothing was happening to the inactive on the benefits. New Deals were being rolled out and then last Spring mandatory work focused interviews as well. We are not comparing a completely hands off control area but wait until the evidence comes in at the end because the mandatory work focused interviews, particularly for the client groups we are talking about, will take some time to make an effect. That is also true about the effectiveness of the schemes, the ones that started first, the basic model, show no sign of having an effect.

    Chairman

  39. How long will it take?
  40. (Mr Stanton) We will have the evidence on the employment effect, the data comes in in the autumn. The National Institute for Economic and Social Research will be analysing the data as they did in the first wave. We are planning to publish about this time next year.

  41. This employment effect might start to show through then?
  42. (Mr Stanton) That will be the point when we take the best judgment.

    (Mr Brown) Let me say, the Secretary of State was very clear when he made the decision to go to the Jobcentre Plus model, and indeed the Government more generally was clear, that we wanted a greater focus on the move from benefits to work than was given by the ONE Pilot.

    Mr Mitchell

  43. Can we just ask David one yes or no question which is this. Does the current research, undertaken by your Department, show that the ONE Pilots have led to any effect at all on getting people into work?
  44. (Mr Stanton) There is some small evidence but it is too early to form a conclusion.

    (Mr Brown) I might as well point out the small evidence is positive.

    Chairman: Yes. I have to warn colleagues we may be interrupted by divisions and if bells start ringing do not get too worried. We have a lot of territory to cover. Nick, you have been very generous with your answers but we have got to balance that against the time as well. We cannot take the whole night, although I know you would love to.

    Andrew Selous

  45. Minister, I would like to move on to some of the training aspects as far as the staff are concerned. I wonder if you could kindly expand on some of the issues in your memorandum which you were kind enough to give us. They were that advisers often did not have the full range of skills or enough time to identify and address clients' needs, nor the ability to undertake the appropriate discussions about work, nor indeed to refer clients to the relevant specialist provisions or to undertake case loading properly. It is a very large number of tasks that you are asking staff to do. I wonder if you could expand on how those staff are going to be skilled up sufficiently to take on those tasks?
  46. (Mr Brown) We most certainly did learn things from the ONE Pilots. Assessing somebody's benefit entitlement is a skilled job. It has to be done very carefully and it is absolutely clear that the clients are relying on that assessment for further decision making about what they should be looking for in the labour market, what impact it would have on their present income. I am very keen that we offer a first class service on both the benefit calculation and on the mentoring, the proactive work to help clients into work. This is all done realistically and things are properly explained to people. That means that people have to be properly trained to deliver the service. On the details of what training is offered, and what backup resources there are that people in the front line can call on for specialist calculations or specialist advice on particular job opportunities, and maybe the training that is required to get into the job, I would like to ask Leigh to set this out because it is more a management issue than a policy one.

    (Mr Lewis) Thank you. Just to say, I think we did inevitably learn some lessons from the ONE Pilots. We have learnt lessons about training, though it is worth saying that there is clear evidence from the evaluation that our customers welcomed the relationship with their personal advisers in ONE. That is a great improvement and they overwhelmingly thought that the service they received was good. We have in designing the Jobcentre Plus training taken account of lessons learnt. One was that we needed to put more context around the training so that our advisers had a better understanding of the overall intent of what we were trying to do. Every personal adviser in the Jobcentre Plus office has been through a three day programme which was called New Beginnings which did not happen in ONE and is a major investment, as you will appreciate. We place greater emphasis on ensuring that personal advisers understand the importance of customers themselves understanding the service, what it entails and what is available to them. We have provided more information for our advisers on handling sensitive issues and barriers. We have provided, for example, carers, and that has been a very specific area where we have given more in-depth training to Jobcentre Plus advisers. We have worked with a whole range of organisations more closely than I think we did, such as the Mental Health Foundation, on some of the barriers that people with mental health difficulties can face. Particularly relevant to your point, we have given advisers more time, encouraged advisers to spend more time actually getting out and visiting those specialist organisations to whom they are able to refer people who are going to need additional and extra support. So we have in a pretty comprehensive way sought to make the training for personal advisers in Jobcentre Plus more comprehensive than it was in the ONE Pilot.

  47. I am very pleased to hear that. Can I just ask you one specific point. Thinking specifically of ES staff, I understand that the training for BA staff for one benefit can take 12 weeks sometimes, what are doing specifically to get that benefit knowledge to ES staff who have to have that range of skills available?
  48. (Mr Lewis) One thing we have actually done is, in a sense, broken up the process. One of the lessons that I think we did learn from the ONE Pilots was that to expect an individual personal adviser to be able him or herself to be a complete expert on the entire range of benefit issues and the entire range of labour market issues was demanding a great deal of any one individual. We also knew that our customers wanted to believe that benefit issues were being dealt with before they in their minds comfortably turned to wanting to be able to talk about employment issues. Therefore a key difference, actually, in Jobcentre Plus is that when a customer comes in at the beginning of their claim, they first meet a benefit expert who has greater knowledge of the benefit side of the picture and who can begin to establish that the customer is claiming the right benefit, that they are bringing in the right information and so on. Then they meet a personal adviser and that adviser can spend more time dealing with those aspirations of that individual, their training needs, their labour market opportunities and so on, without that personal adviser themselves having to be expert in every conceivable benefit issue.

  49. I am pleased you have come back to the role of the personal adviser which takes me on to my next question in fact, if I could address that to the Minister, if I may. We understand again from your memorandum that you are keen to encourage the maximum possible contact between clients and their personal advisers. The evidence we have seen and the discussions we have had with personal advisers suggests that the time they have for case loading is in fact extremely limited. We heard only two weeks ago in High Wycombe from some personal advisers of the difficulties they have when their clients ring them of being able to get back to them and actually maintaining that personal relationship, which we understand is important. Is it not going to require considerable extra resources in terms of staff allocation and staff timing to get this real personal one to one relationship going between staff and clients?
  50. (Mr Brown) These are early days. We have rolled out the Jobcentre Plus format in 53 offices from the autumn up to Christmas and we have further roll outs planned. We will be able to make an assessment of how much time is needed. Clearly it will vary, frankly, between client and client. As we say in the memorandum we do want to provide a good proactive service, one that the client believes they can rely on and do so with certainty. I think it will vary client with client. If there are particular issues there then frankly it will be for the head of the service, Leigh, and for the management to resolve. All the evidence we have, a little bit from the ONE Pilots but actually more so from the Action Areas for Jobs where there is a proactive approach and some flexibility to the individual advisers and outreach work, all of the evidence we have shows that if you stick with the person and help them through their job search and encourage them, you get a better result than just by saying "Here are the jobs, go and get one". It is probably better to ask Leigh on the point of detail because I do not want to be drawn into the management issues.

  51. In terms of time allocation the personal advisers we spoke to in High Wycombe two weeks ago were saying they had a half hour slot in their schedule to do it. How realistically, if someone rings back wanting further advice, are personal advisers going to be able to maintain that one to one relationship with that sort of time allocation in their weekly schedule?
  52. (Mr Lewis) I think it would be a brave Chief Executive of any organisation who came and said that they had all the resource they could ever conceivably want for any eventuality in any situation. What I am sure of is that we have some very, very substantial resource indeed for the task which we are being asked to undertake, both for the initial contacts with our customers where we have 20 minutes for the initial discussion with the financial assessor, 45-60 minutes for the initial discussion with a personal adviser and then we have available, to us and to our advisers, the existing major programmes, like the New Deal for Lone Parents, on to which our customers can go if they wish to follow through. I am not going to suggest that there will never be any case anywhere where an adviser faces some pressure over his or her time. What I am clear about - and I have run the Employment Service for over five years now - is I do not think we have ever had a time when there has been so much resource in the system which has enabled us to offer a comprehensive service to as many individuals as we have now in the Jobcentre Plus offices.

    Mr Dismore

  53. I would like to pick up on some of the more detailed issues arising out of the explanation that you and Nick have given. My main concern is how it will happen on the ground both in general terms and in relation to disadvantaged groups. I would particularly like to ask about sick and disabled payments and particularly those who fail the personal capability assessment. The evidence that we got last week from the Department's researchers was that personal advisers do not feel equipped very well to approach the problems of those who still often do not consider themselves to be sick who have failed the test. They have very little knowledge of the personal capability assessment. They do not feel equipped to advise the people in this position who often, not unnaturally, feel a bit aggrieved that they have been put in what to them is a bit of a dichotomy because, on the one hand, they do not feel fit to work and they have been put on a JSA type benefit but, on the other hand, they have been told they have to look for work but the person who is going to be advising them on the work is not really in a position to do that.
  54. (Mr Brown) You have put your finger on a very real issue. It is fair to say that those in a more general advisory capacity have found it difficult to work with the capacity assessment and those who have specialist knowledge believe that they can carry out the job without the capacity assessment. So it really is a question of making sure that people who are capable of giving specialist advice, if specialist advice is needed, are made full use of. I will ask Leigh to say something about the management issue which underpins that. The Government is determined to try to help the million people in that subset of three million people that are sick or disabled who say that they feel they could work if work was there or if they were able to, the Government is setting out to help them. We do not want people feeling that they are put to one side because of some disability or personal circumstance when they would like to work. We are setting out to help them into work. The figures show very clearly that it is a harder thing to do to help disadvantaged groups than it is to help mainstream clients, particularly those who have already been in work, and yet the whole purpose of the specialist New Deals is to do precisely that. Leigh, do you want to say something on the specialist help to people with special needs?

    (Mr Lewis) Yes. Just to say that I very much agree with Mr Dismore but it is not realistic to expect a personal adviser, however good and however well trained, to be able to cope personally with every conceivable disability problem that any individual may have. That is why it is important that there is access to a range of people with more specialist knowledge. There are two groups to whom the personal advisers can turn for support in those circumstances. The first is to the existing network of disability employment advisers who currently sit, as it is now, in the Employment Service but will sit in Jobcentre Plus. Secondly, through the New Deal for Disabled People, to a range of job broker organisations who are themselves specialist in many particular individual areas. I think the trick for us, the management challenge for us, is to ensure that our personal advisers do recognise the point where in a sense they need in a controlled and supportive way to refer an individual to an expert or an organisation who can give them more particular or more specialist help and support.

  55. You would accept the conclusions of the early research we have seen on the pilots that this is a problem and you are proposing to try and address it with the way you are going to change it for the Jobcentre Plus operation? The evidence from Alan Marsh was that only one in ten people in this situation had discussed their PCA at all with a personal adviser?
  56. (Mr Lewis) I think I would just echo what the Minister has said. I think it is one of the areas where we have learnt lessons from the ONE Pilots. I think one of the challenges for us in the ONE Pilots and in the New Deals has been to get that balance right between a personal adviser who is in one to one contact with that individual and who can provide access to the system, personal support, encouragement and counselling and yet cannot, inevitably, handle every single range of issues, every single problem that an individual may have.

  57. The other issue I want to raise is one that I nearly always end up raising with Ministers because it is something that I have been concerned about for some time increasingly as I have worked on DSS. It is the position of ethnic minority claimants and the evidence particularly in relation to Pakistani groups - and it can probably be read across depending on where the research is done - is that they are receiving a second class service. They are not getting a fair approach from the Jobcentre Pilots. What are you going to try and do? Do you accept that criticism? What are you going to try and do to deal with it?
  58. (Mr Brown) I accept that the evidence is overwhelming that ethnic minority groups are over-represented amongst the unemployed and under-represented in those who are in employment. Clearly there is an issue there to be addressed, and we are setting out to do so. We are piloting, as you may know, six New Deals specifically targeted at communities with high concentrations of ethnic minorities. I have had a look at this myself at ministerial level and the issues are not uniform for all ethnic minorities by any means with different features for different ethnic minority groups. There is always something in there that says that we are not succeeding in getting people into the labour market and that to be part of an ethnic minority is collectively to be disadvantaged, that has to be tackled. The New Deals are part of that strategy, whether that is enough on its own, I am pretty sure that it is not and that we as a Service, through the Jobcentre Plus, need to do more.

  59. That is not actually the question that I was asking.
  60. (Mr Brown) Go on.

  61. It is self-evidently the fact that people who are from ethnic communities tend to be focusing much more about riding statistics than unemployment.
  62. (Mr Brown) Yes but the underlying reasons are quite complex and varied.

  63. You might read across from one particular ethnic group to another.
  64. (Mr Brown) Yes.

  65. My concern is on the delivery of the service where research shows in particular - where it was done in areas where there was a concentration of the Pakistani community - that they are getting a disadvantaged, less effective, less efficient service compared with the indigenous white population. Now that is not the same question as saying that from one particular group -
  66. (Mr Brown) Do you mean the ONE Pilots?

  67. Yes. Is the finding of that research acceptable that they have been getting, on either a subjective or an objective view, a lesser service and if that criticism is not accepted why not and if it is accepted how are you going to address that in the Jobcentre Plus?
  68. (Mr Brown) I would like David to deal with the statistical point. Is that a fair conclusion to draw from the analysis of the ONE Pilots, the analysis that has been done so far? More generally is there an issue there, yes there most certainly is. Yes, it does have to be addressed. I think the New Deals that we have just launched are going to be playing an important part in trying to tease out what the issues actually are. Since they are focused on communities with very high proportions of ethnic minorities from different ethnic minority communities I think we will learn a great deal from them. I suspect, looking at the figures and trying to delve beneath them, we will not like some of the things we discover. David, would you like to comment?

    (Mr Stanton) If you look at the pilot and the control area data, comparing white with ethnic minority outcomes for employment, then it is true in both pilot and control that ethnic minorities fair worse. It is true, also, that the figures perversely suggest that there may have been some advantage in Manchester where there was a special drive at a control area to increase work placement rates for ethnic minorities.

    (Mr Brown) We had better make it clear that was outside the ONE Pilot, that was a special drive.

    (Mr Stanton) That was a control area where the ONE service was not being delivered.

    (Mr Brown) Something else was happening.

    (Mr Stanton) A local initiative was taking place which gave the impression that the control area was better but that was just one initiative. That was in a way encouraging, you can do something that works. Then we had data analysed to check whether there was a specific ONE effect and the question you are raising about the higher Pakistani element in one of the ONE Pilots is allowed for. We found no evidence that ethnic minorities were disadvantaged in the ONE Pilot area compared with the control.

  69. You dispute the Alan March client survey?
  70. (Mr Stanton) What I think Alan Marsh was saying - but it is probably for him not me to say - was that though we tried to match control area with pilot area as much as we could, we looked at issues like ethnicity when we were doing it, one of the pilot areas had a higher Pakistani ethnicity. We know that in the labour market the ethnic groups that are most disadvantaged are Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and that gives that result. Once you allow for that in the statistical analysis there is no evidence that ONE itself disadvantaged people. In a pilot where there was a higher Pakistani element, the Pakistani element came out untouched by the ONE Pilot.

  71. The conclusion he was drawing was based on particular client interviews, for example, as well as statistical analysis. The evidence he came up with was that people from Pakistani communities - and as far as I can recall the evidence we had last week - were less likely to get proper interviews with the personal advisers, for example, to discuss their position effectively as a proportion.
  72. (Mr Stanton) Within that pilot, I would have to look at that and give you a note.

  73. Yes. What I am concerned about is -
  74. (Mr Stanton) On the employment placement, there is no ONE effect against an ethnic minority of whatever group. On access to interviews, I would like to go back on that.

  75. My concern is that you seem to be challenging evidence from the researchers we heard last week which was quite firm in the view in reflation to this trend. They talked about the trend generally of being a degree of disadvantage for ethnic community groups but particularly high or substantially disadvantaged were Pakistani groups, and that is what I am particularly concerned about. My next question is what are you going to try and do about it to try and address that? Nick said there are going to be six pilot areas.
  76. (Mr Brown) Yes.

  77. Presumably you have a reason for saying that so you cannot necessarily disagree with the hypothesis I am putting to you?
  78. (Mr Brown) No, I am not. I am not sufficiently qualified to answer the rather more technical point about the way in which the people have been selected for interviews matches up. More generally, I take an interest in the topic and have had a very fine presentation on what the Department already knows, and it worries me. I certainly think that we have to do a lot more if we are going to bear down on social exclusion in all its forms and that includes tackling minority groups that are disadvantaged in the labour market. The evidence is overwhelming that they are disadvantaged.

  79. My concern is that they are already disadvantaged but the service they are getting is from the process -----
  80. (Mr Brown) It must be pretty obvious that it is not our intention that they should be. There are issues there to address and the point of having six carefully focused New Deals in those parts of the country where the ethnic minority populations are most prominent is precisely to learn lessons to tackle these problems and to try to make an impact on the problem itself.

  81. So what sort of research is going on in the pilot studies that you mentioned to try and get to the bottom of how you can re-jig the service that they are getting?
  82. (Mr Brown) These have only just been launched. We are inviting bids now. I have not received the advice yet from officials who are going to evaluate the bids. These are the new New Deals, but I think it is a very important area.

    Ms Buck

  83. I am intrigued. You have now said somewhat darkly and mysteriously twice, "You might not like what we find".
  84. (Mr Brown) I think people are disadvantaged in the labour market by colour and that there is still discrimination out there.

    Mr Dismore

  85. But we are not arguing about that.
  86. (Mr Brown) I know, but it is quite difficult to prove.

    Chairman

  87. We veterans of this Committee find it difficult to produce a report which does not have a recommendation about ethnicity in the process. We might persuade ourselves that a full blown report on ethnicity in the process might be a good idea.
  88. (Mr Brown) If the Committee wanted to work alongside the Department on the new rules and evaluate them as they go along I would welcome that.

    Mr Dismore

  89. The issue arises not just in your half of the Department. The fact that statistics are not kept in relation to the social security side of it in relation to ethnic minorities -----
  90. (Mr Brown) No, I think that is changing, but you are right, they were not historically, but I think it is more Mr Stanton's area.

    (Mr Stanton) There is an issue about the recording of ethnicity in the benefit claim. Historically the position has been that we are only entitled to ask for information that affects the benefit claim, but we have been monitoring (and it has been a long standing monitoring) labour market statistics for JSA claims where a marker is put down on ethnicity and we do take it into account in the evaluation and consider it an important issue. I have just also been told that the evidence on the ONE pilots is that ethnic minorities were more likely to receive advice about work than non-ethnic minorities, so it is not all that way.

    Mr Dismore: It did not sound that way last week. It sounded the opposite last week, but that can be checked.

    Mr Stewart

  91. Minister, I would like to raise the issue of work focused interviews which of course in itself a good thing, but there is a down side we have discovered that you should be aware, which is that there is some evidence of longer delays in individuals getting their benefits. What is your view on the subject?
  92. (Mr Brown) There is not intended to be any extra delay in the system; in fact quite the reverse. We aim to provide a service that is focused and that meets people's needs both on the benefit side and with the job search as well. It is intended to be proactive and the emphasis is intended to be on helping people into work or back into work. I am not saying that nobody has had their benefit delayed but I am not aware of any institutional delay in the benefit.

    (Mr Lewis) The point I think I would like to make is the one that in one sense I was giving for a different reason in answer to an earlier question, that one of the changes we have made in Jobcentre Plus compared with the ONE pilots is actually having a separate benefit expert who sees the customer immediately they come in. The personal adviser sees them and then they see their benefit expert again before they leave the office even when on their very first visit. One of the aims of that, as well as giving the customer a more rounded service in that wherever possible they leave with the maximum certainty about their benefit position, is so that more cases, particularly where the position is a simple one, are put into action more quickly. It is too early to know whether we will succeed in that ambition but one of our objectives for making the process operate in that way is to speed the benefit claim process.

  93. In the annex to the statistics that you kindly provided to our Committee on Monday of this week it does appear that there is a higher incidence of crisis loans in the pilot areas than in the control areas. Does this reflect the delays in clients receiving benefits in the ONE pilot areas?
  94. (Mr Brown) I do not know the answer to that.

    (Mr Lewis) I am not sure that I know the answer to that either in that specific degree of detail but there is evidence that many crisis loans (and that term covers a very wide variety of payments) are necessary where there is a delay in putting a regular benefit payment into effect so that if we are able through the Jobcentre Plus process to get people's benefit into payment more quickly then it ought to follow that there will be less need for certain kinds of crisis loan.

  95. Can I move on to another aspect of crisis loans? Am I right in suggesting, Minister, that people in need of crisis loans immediately will not be dealt with in the glossy open plan offices which have got great advantages but will go down the road to the unreconstructed benefit offices which have staff with screens? Is there a danger of a two-tier system here with the poorest and almost desperate getting the worst deal?
  96. (Mr Brown) The issue is this. If there is an event, an exchange, between our staff and the public that we know carries a high risk of unacceptable behaviour and even of an act of violence then it has to be done in a safe environment. It may well be that crisis loans are such events and in those circumstances it has to be done in a screened environment. Each cluster of job centres will have a screened office where these transactions can take place. What I cannot say is that each and every job centre in a single building will have a screened environment. The service across the district is provided in a predominantly unscreened environment. Each assessment is made with regard to local circumstances so there will be some variation across the different job centre clusters.

  97. Obviously I understand the point about high risk clients not being interviewed in the Jobcentre Plus for crisis loans but as a general rule why cannot crisis loans be issued in Jobcentre Plus offices?
  98. (Mr Brown) I am not sure it is always the case that they will not be but it is an operational matter. The issue is the safety of the staff.

    (Mr Lewis) In some cases they will be, of course, where there is a screened area in the Jobcentre Plus office. Even in those places where there is not we hope that the service will be better than it has been in this respect, that where somebody now simply arrives to seek a crisis loan in an existing Benefit Agency office they will often have to wait for a period of time, sometimes a considerable period of time, to see a person who can deal with that, where somebody contacts us through the Jobcentre Plus process, either originally by phone and it becomes clear in the telephone conversation that they wish to apply for a crisis loan, or they come into a Jobcentre Plus office and it is clear that they wish to apply for a crisis loan. We will not simply say, "Would you like to go down the road?". We will actually make an appointment with them for a time and with an individual named member of staff, even if that is in another office, so that they will be able to go to that other office at a given time to see someone who is expecting to see them. Even in that respect therefore the service should be significantly better than it is now.

  99. My final question links to an earlier point made about the financial assessors. I think it is a very welcome development. Will claimants have ongoing contact with the benefit assessor if they have any benefit related queries during the course of their claim?
  100. (Mr Brown) The continuing contact is in the generality going to be with the adviser, the person who is helping them to get work, but if there is an issue that they think has not been properly considered in their financial assessment, then, assuming it is a new issue and not that they think they could get a higher amount if they try again, then of course the service is there for them. I think it is unlikely that there will be a continuing relationship. I cannot think of an exception where there will be a need for a continuing relationship between the financial assessor and the client. It will be with the personal adviser who is trying to get them into work.

    (Mr Lewis) That is exactly right, if I may say so. The personal adviser will act as the supporter into the system for that individual, so if there is a need during the period when they remain claiming for them to get specialist advice then a personal adviser will be provided for that.

  101. So the financial assessor will be a specialist post, highly geared up in this, and he will advise the claimant. Is the objective that we increase the take-up of benefits in the UK as well?
  102. (Mr Brown) Yes, but this works both ways. We are determined to ensure that the person's benefit entitlement is properly calculated and they get what they are entitled to, so there is that welfare advisory function in the financial assessor's role as well as being the starting point for a conversation about work and - what is at the heart of this - the difference between having a steady waged income and having to rely on benefits. The Government's intention is that people will be better off in work, and that is not just underpinned by the policies of this Department but more widely.

    Chairman

  103. Inverness and Aberdeen and places like that are far flung. This is not a part of cosmopolitan Britain like some of the rest of my colleagues cover, so there could be issues about sending people not round the corner in a cluster but 15 miles away. Inverness is a long way from everywhere. Can you give us some assurances just for the record that rural areas are not going to be disadvantaged in that?
  104. (Mr Brown) Yes. This issue about how you deliver an office based service to rural communities is not a new one. Indeed, I got some experience of it in my previous ministerial post so it would be odd if I did not pay some attention to it. By a combination of outreach work, of using the telephone, of fixed appointments, we think we will be able to deliver an even better service than we deliver at the moment.

    (Mr Lewis) A good example is in our Devon cluster of offices at the moment where it is the case that on some occasions we will ask someone to travel to Exeter in order to get the specialist support or service they need, but actually in two key respects I think Jobcentre Plus is going to be a very significant improvement. If you go into a job centre now, or had you done so before Jobcentre Plus was introduced, and raised a benefit query the staff there were not able to help you with that. No doubt they would have done their best to refer you and give you a telephone number and so on but they were not able to help you. The staff there now in a Jobcentre Plus office will be able to answer routine benefit inquiries, so that is better. Secondly, even where they need to say to someone that they need to travel to a different office (the same point I was making to Mr Stewart) they will actually proactively make that appointment there and then and talk to their colleagues, so the individual is going to Exeter or wherever it may be, but to see a named person at a named time who is expecting to see them.

    Rob Marris

  105. The integrated electronic claim form for JSAs our research suggests is going to be helpful. Is there going to be a similar form for incapacity benefit and income support?
  106. (Mr Lewis) It is certainly our intention that we want to move to electronic claim taking in a much more extensive way than we use it now and we are working hard to introduce something we call the customer management system which we do aim to introduce into Jobcentre Plus nationally and which will include electronic claim taking. As colleagues I am sure will know, this is not a small or lightweight undertaking. It is a major programme of IT.

    (Mr Brown) Incapacity benefit and income support, there will be a specific form for that.

    (Mr Lewis) But it will be part of the initial claim taking process.

    Ms Buck

  107. Minister, at the beginning you quite rightly talked about the issue of certainty, of people making the decision to return to work. What the evidence shows, academic or anecdotal, is that housing costs are critical, and you know how obsessive I am about this. You have been to seminars where I have bored for England on it. One of the things that came out of the evidence particularly from local authorities was some concerns and disappointment about aspects of the relationship between ONE and local authorities and as a consequence of that, or underpinning it in fact, was the fact that the IT is not compatible, the fact that the benefits staff do not have an understanding (we do not expect expertise) of how critical housing benefit calculations are to a full in-work package. First of all can you tell us why you have made the decision that local authorities are not going to be partners in Jobcentre Plus? Can you talk about why you feel that the relationship in terms of delivery of advice on housing benefit has not worked and what it is that you could do as a Department to try and make sure that there is compatibility and that that very important aspect of advice is delivered?
  108. (Mr Brown) We are still talking to the local authorities. It is not that the relationship is severed at a national or a local level. Why have they not been included specifically in Jobcentre Plus in the way that they were in the ONE pilots? The reason is just frankly overload of change. Because we have taken the decision to make these very fundamental changes not just in the way in which the service is delivered but in the technology that we use to deliver the service and because we are trying to join up the benefits and the employment services all at the same time with a large programme of re-investment and renewal, it was thought, and I was not in the Department at the time but having looked at it I think the decision was right, that to try also to deal with benefits to work issues would just be trying to take on too much all at the same time. There are continuing issues with housing benefit, hopefully in the way in which it is administered and the timing of changes, which you are very familiar with, and of course they do impact on people's willingness to move from a benefit claim and housing claim benefit and housing tax rebate and potentially in some cases the economic impact of free school dinners when a person moves to work and then goes over the threshold. All of these are taken into the calculation. You are absolutely right. Housing benefit is probably the largest single issue at the forefront of people's minds when they compare the wage and the benefit.

  109. I am sympathetic to the central point. You cannot do everything, of course you cannot, but there is a danger that one is going to get a two-legged stool in all this. If we do not get that right somehow, whether it is by involving local authorities into Jobcentre Plus or not, then there is a whole cohort of people who are simply not going to get the service they want. That is not just about getting the total better-off calculation because I think that generally can get done, but there is also just the process of getting the claim chased.
  110. (Mr Brown) Yes, and of course these things take time. The Ministers are very mindful of this. It is an issue not only that we are alert to but we see the need to try to resolve. There is work between the Department and the local authorities on the systems and work on timing and also work on -----

  111. Would you just be a little bit more specific about what you see the improvement package containing?
  112. (Mr Brown) I cannot, no. I am not sure it is possible to say now.

    (Mr Lewis) We are very much talking to the LGA nationally and to authorities in the Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder areas and there are discussions going on, for example, about the number of forms that people have to complete at the moment and whether we can rationalise and simplify that. One of the ways in which we will be offering improvement as well in another sense is that an individual having a personal adviser means also that that personal adviser's role does not in a sense stop at the office door. If, for example, that adviser is talking to someone who is wanting to go into work, who is worried about their housing benefit claims, worried about housing benefit run-on and issues like that, that adviser will talk to their local authority colleagues, will try and make sure that the liaison is as good as it can be.

  113. But is that really happening? I simply did not get a sense either locally or from our visits that this is happening, desirable as it clearly is, and it is a reflection on the successes that people really feel that they want to connect to this personal adviser, that this person is a help-mate to take them through system but actually they cannot do it.
  114. (Mr Brown) It is early days. We only rolled them out in October and two of the later ones came in December and January, so we have got 53 of the offices providing the service as a flagship in the way that we want, but for people to already be coming back to their personal adviser with their housing benefit problems, we have not picked that up yet, I have to say. The personal adviser is there for them if they want to come back with a problem. Remember that the idea is not just to help people into work but to sustain them in employment. There has also been some work at the margins on the right to return to housing benefit and so on if their circumstances do not work out.

  115. Absolutely, but I wonder how much of that not picking up that particular problem is due to the fact that people are ringing up and asking to speak to the adviser and simply being told that that person is busy. Are you picking that up because I have not had that sense that there is capacity in the system to do it?
  116. (Mr Brown) No, I am not picking up either. I am not picking up that there is a great demand to see the personal adviser to discuss housing benefit once people are in employment, but if people wanted to they could. I have not picked it up yet. I suppose you are going to say that the Minister will be the last to find out. If there is an issue of people ringing in and being told that the personal adviser is doing something else and all the other things that sometimes are said, I have not picked that up as a problem.

  117. We certainly picked it up on a visit. This also goes back to the discussion we had about ethnic minority communities which is that in many inner city areas, as we know, there is a huge amount going on facilitated in many by cases local authorities working alongside local authorities on the whole economic development agenda. That tends to be concentrated into cities with large ethnic minority communities so the overlap is there. Evidence again from the LGA and local government is that that partnership that could facilitate the successful working of your side of the deal is not as effective as it could be. As an explanation for that, and this has certainly been my experience, having a successful single generation budget project which has funded a centre for jobs and opportunities linked into the Employment Service, but where they have found very real practical quite small but significant bureaucratic problems in getting an SRB scheme, however imaginative, civic entrepreneurship running alongside part of the bureaucracy, that simply cannot do what we want it to do in order to deliver a very plentiful service to partners. Are you really giving a lead to local job centre managers to say to them, "How can we overcome these bureaucratic barriers? How can we get you working hand in glove with local regeneration partnerships?"?
  118. (Mr Brown) That point has been made to me almost formally by representatives of the Local Government Association but also, as I visit the country, the point is made that, particularly in the inner city areas where there are regeneration projects, they are either really pleased that the Department is fully involved or they make the point in the same way you have, that they would like the Department to be involved, and yes, we do want to be involved. The new Department is an important partner in urban regeneration because of our focus on jobs and also because of our interest in intermediate labour markets which have a very important part to play in urban regeneration. I do encourage local managers to get themselves involved and to get their staffs involved.

  119. Will you set them free?
  120. (Mr Brown) I am in favour of more local discretion, although exactly how much I will need to talk very definitely to Leigh about before making some blanket commitment to yourselves. It is not just an issue for me but right across Government. I meet regularly with the Parliamentary Secretary from the Department of Education and Skills because training is a big issue in this and with the Minister of State from the Department of Trade and Industry to focus on issues like this one: how we can join up and get more from working together than we would get from individual departmental initiatives. One thing we focus on more than anything else is the single regeneration budget as it was and these regional and local initiatives as they are now.

    (Mr Lewis) One very small point. It may on the face of it seem terribly bureaucratic but I do not think it is. We now have finalised the district structure of Jobcentre Plus as a whole. It is a national organisation and will have 90 districts. The key decision was that boundaries would align with local authority boundaries. That means that no local authority should have to deal with more than one Healthcentre Plus district. That ought to be a major step forward because our boundaries at times have completely interlocked with one another and made it very difficult.

    Mrs Humble

  121. My question follows on very neatly from Karen Buck's question. I did have a concern that with the development of all this new service local initiatives might be lost. In Blackpool, at the same time as the ONE pilots were being set up, we had our own little enterprise which was a joint working scheme between the local authority, the Employment Service and income support. The Secretary of State visited and it is joint working that has helped all three parties. It has certainly helped the local authority in processing housing benefit claims and it has meant in turn that individuals have not been approached by three different organisations for the basically the same information, so I want a reassurance that as you are re-configuring the services an initiative like that could continue.
  122. (Mr Brown) I would like us to be involved with the local initiatives and to be there to help them. I really do think that what the Department is setting out to do can play a major part in urban regeneration, but we should be attending the steering committees of local partnership organisations and offering what we can. I am enthusiastic about being involved rather than trying to supplant what local groups are trying to do.

    Mr Goodman

  123. When the three product contractors came here and gave evidence they all said they would like the opportunity to become involved in the future development of Jobcentre Plus and their views were perhaps best summed up by Action for Employment who said that they still had their fingers crossed for private sector involvement in Jobcentre Plus but that perhaps they were being naive in that. Based on the ONE experience do you see any role for the private sector in the delivery of Jobcentre Plus or did Action for Employment have their fingers crossed in vain?
  124. (Mr Brown) I think the early evidence is frankly inconclusive. I have looked at it quite hard and am quite taken by the fact that each of the private sector partners taking part in this pilot had a different approach to it and had differences of nuance in the evidence that they have given to yourselves. I would have said therefore that the jury was out on what the ONE pilots can tell us about private sector involvement. I really do think it should be given a longer chance and we will evaluate it, no doubt together, in 2002 when the final evidence is in. Jobcentre Plus I see primarily as a public service coming together with the Benefits Agency as was and those with long memories will remember as the Employment Service. In other words it is coming together to provide a public service in exactly the way that the two previous departments did. That is my view of it.

  125. You obviously have not ruled out private sector involvement.
  126. (Mr Brown) I am trying to be open-minded about it and if I discovered that something worked very much better because of some private sector initiative, then clearly one would want to give that very careful consideration, but we are proceeding to roll out Jobcentre Plus as a public service.

  127. Just so, but what I wanted to ask you is when you will be in the position to take a decision about whether there will be private sector involvement or not.
  128. (Mr Brown) We are rolling it out as a public service. I would certainly want to evaluate the lessons from the final report on the ONE pilots to see if there was anything -----

  129. You cannot give a date?
  130. (Mr Brown) 2002 will be when the ONE pilots are, I imagine, drawn to a close. Obviously I wait for advice closer to the time. Remember that as we roll out a Jobcentre Plus, and the Government is firmly committee to making Jobcentre Plus a uniform service across the country, we will absorb the ONE pilots in that. The idea is that it will be a seamless move from the ONE pilot to the Jobcentre Plus service, and that is a public sector service; that is the Government's plan. Of course, if the evidence from the pilots shows something that the Government would want to take account of then we will, but the early evidence is not really there.

  131. Can I move on to ask a question about one of the three contractors involved, which was Deloitte Consulting, who have withdrawn from involvement in Leeds and Suffolk? Has this resulted in any problems?
  132. (Mr Brown) I was disappointed, frankly, because the purpose of the pilots was to enlist private sector involvement as well as what the public sector could do in innovative circumstances, but the advice to me as the Minister was very clear. Since they were withdrawing they could not continue and since we wanted to continue with the pilot the recommendation was that the public sector should take it over and that is what we have done.

  133. Can I come to some of the reasons why they may have withdrawn, and these were problems that were expressed, I think it is fair to say, by all three witnesses and not just by Deloittes, which was that they felt from their experience of ONE that there was commitment at the top from politicians like yourself and from others and there was enthusiasm at the grass roots, but what they expressed some frustration with was what you could call the middle level where they said that there was an administrative tier that was preoccupied by process and procedure at the expense of bringing initiative and more flexibility into providing employment opportunities. What is your reaction to that?
  134. (Mr Brown) The point has been made to me, and I have tried to have a look at it, but there are countervailing arguments about the need to safeguard public money. It would be a rash minister who would say, "We will put those to one side".

  135. And you are giving more weight, are you, at the moment to that consideration that you have just mentioned than to the private sector view that there has been inflexibility in this middle sector?
  136. (Mr Brown) We are looking probably at the same issue but through different sets of eyes. People have differences of view depending on where they are coming from. I have not seen anything that convinces me that those who are in charge of administering the overview of the projects have behaved unfairly to the private sector. If people really wanted to press that point I would be happy for them just to come in and see me and to make that point and nobody has done that so far.

  137. Do you think there have been any lessons you have learned at all from the private sector about realising the potential of public sector staff or encouraging what is sometimes called a "can-do" mentality?
  138. (Mr Brown) It is certainly true that the staff in Jobcentre Plus, who are working in the reception areas, meeting the public in an unscreened environment, taking this proactive role with claimants, overwhelming enjoy what they are doing and believe the proactive role is right. Staff that I have met who are doing outreach work on one of the Action for Jobs projects have said that they like the local discretion, they like the ability to go and meet people in their homes rather than always to see people in an office, and that this freedom to take decisions at a local level is something they find helps to make the job more fulfilling. The early evidence is that it gets results as well. I think there is a very strong case for that approach. I do not take the view that it is something that can only be done in the private sector and cannot be done in a public service. Indeed, the early evidence from the Jobcentre Plus pilots is that the public service is taking to this very well and relishing it. I have visited six of the Pathfinder sites now and my experience was uniform, and I really do not believe that people were just putting on a show because it is the Minister visiting. People were pretty blunt and candid and willing to talk but were very committed to what they are doing.

  139. Are there any lessons that the public sector can learn from the private sector in terms of getting value for money?
  140. (Mr Brown) I think the services we are providing are value for money. I certainly think that the "can-do" approach is the right one. I would not say that it was alien to public service. Indeed, I am just describing circumstances where it is to be found. On Andrew's earlier point about were the ONE pilots value for money, yes, I think they were. I think the initial monies spent were proportionate to what it was we were trying to discover. Remember that the conclusions which are being drawn from all this are informing substantial decisions on public expenditure and it is a whole series of very significant changes in the way we provide these important public services, not just in the way we provide them front of house but also in the equipment and technologies we use to back up the provision of the service.

  141. Coming back to that answer for a moment, I was not implying that the public sector has no experience at all, is incapable of realising value for money. I was simply asking directly whether the public sector has anything to learn at all from the private sector and, if so, how much.
  142. (Mr Brown) That is quite a deep philosophical question. I think we all have things to learn from each other. The important thing is to keep talking and to keep abreast of current developments.

  143. The private sector companies, very bluntly, did not feel that you were doing enough to engage their expertise in the lessons they have learned in the development of Jobcentre Plus. What is your comment on that?
  144. (Mr Brown) They have not said that to me, is my comment to that, or to the officials that advise me. If they have said it to yourselves, if they would like to come and see me or see my officials, I am always happy to see them. The point is new to me personally and if someone wants to come and make a complaint or explain something to me then I am always happy to see them.

    Mr Mitchell

  145. I think it is an important point that the private sector are involved in these pilots because they may have something to teach us. It is very important that they should be encouraged. I am disturbed that the message has not got through to you because it was as clear as a pikestaff to us when we took evidence from them. If of course the private sector feel that only lip service is being paid to what they can do and that they are fettered by the unions or whatever, and that was a clear, strong feeling, then we are not going to get the benefit from them and they will not even bid for these things. I do hope that you will get your officials to follow that up.
  146. (Mr Brown) It is not clear to me how they could be fettered by the unions but perhaps somebody is going to spell this out. After all, they are private sector companies undertaking a particular contract which they have entered into with the Government.

  147. The point I would make is this. The private sector were becoming involved in an area where they have not been involved before and if they are discouraged and if the culture is one that discourages them we will not get the best out of the private sector in terms of innovation and support within the pilot process. That is the point I am making. I hope your officials will look at the last point that Paul made to see whether there is something to learn in the future about the way these things are handled in the private sector.
  148. (Mr Brown) There are three points to make on that. The contractual terms are the same for private sector organisations and public sector organisations, and indeed the organisation that is a mix of some public sector and some private sector involvement.

  149. I am making a cultural point.
  150. (Mr Brown) If people have something to say then I am willing to see them. They should come in and see me and talk about it, but it is also the case that there is significant private sector involvement in delivering employment services. There are private recruitment agencies, specialist agencies, that earn their living doing this because the people who employ them think they do the job and do it well. Of course all employers look to their own in-house recruitment techniques as well, so it is private sector employers as well as public sector ones. It is not that there is no private sector expertise in the area.

  151. I absolutely understand the point but nevertheless it was clear evidence to us that the private sector did not feel that their expertise had been engaged to the extent that it could have been. That is the point I hope you will have a look at.
  152. (Mr Brown) I am sorry they feel like that and I will have a look at the point, but nothing in my correspondence has shown that.

    Chairman

  153. From where I am sitting your answers have been, "Perhaps the private sector have been more cautious than I would have anticipated". Maybe that is what the brief says at the top. These people certainly felt that they had taken a bit of a kicking: they were bound hand and foot and there were more contract managers than there were pilot managers. In spite of all this, and in their report Deloittes said there were difficulties, they still wanted to be round the table and they still felt that they had a contribution to make, and I was quite struck by that. The only point I will leave you with, because I want to go into information technology which is a very important area for us, is that if Jobcentre Plus gets too set in its ways - and that is pejorative language, I know, - it is going to be difficult to bring them in later on. You say 2002/2003. By then the thing may have crystallised in a way that perhaps does not give them the opportunity. I am taking a long way round to say that if you are genuine about your offer of continuing the discussion with them, I think that that would be something that would be productive.
  154. (Mr Brown) I would certainly want to continue the dialogue with the private sector. There is a fair bit of the work that we as a Department are setting out to do that is already done by the private sector. We reckon we know about a third of all the jobs that are available in the UK economy at any one moment in time and the other two-thirds are either managed by employers in-house, in other words they recruit by their own methods, or they are handled by private sector agencies. Quite a lot of this work is already done now and always has been by the private sector.

  155. As long as your door is open.
  156. (Mr Brown) It is a continuing dialogue but I must emphasise that Jobcentre Plus has been rolled out as a public service.

    Bob Marris

  157. One of the things that we were sent on Monday was the DWP in-house report number 84, Delivering a Work Focused Service, Interim Finding from One Case Study and Staff Research which made 16 numbered suggestions for change. What is the date of that?
  158. (Mr Brown) Leigh, what is the date of that?

  159. It is germane to what I am going to ask you.
  160. (Mr Stanton) I am just having this checked but I think it is September.

  161. This September?
  162. (Mr Brown) It is a response to the earlier study of the ONE pilot.

  163. It has made certain recommendations about IT. As an aside, I might say, I do not recall the private sector talking about being fettered by the trade unions.
  164. (Mr Brown) I do not understand that.

  165. That is not the way I recall the evidence but I will take that up with the member afterwards perhaps. However, I do recall people saying that there was some fettering because of IT, particularly the integration of the Benefits Agency system.
  166. (Mr Brown) I would willingly concede that.

  167. This is the back of house stuff that you were talking about.
  168. (Mr Brown) Yes.

  169. You also talked about a large programme of re-investment and renewal and Mr Lewis talked about more resources being around than at any other time during your five years in charge. How are we getting on with IT? I take the view, and I suspect some other members do also, if not all of them, that Jobcentre Plus will not work unless the IT does.
  170. (Mr Brown) Certainly Jobcentre Plus, the final version of the service, is predicated on how you make these significant changes in the information technology. It is a very large programme that we are embarked upon. It will take us time to get where we want to be but eventually we want computer to speak unto computer and for the system to be holistic and to work right across the Department's range of responsibilities. I know that the members of the former Social Security Committee will know that that is not the position now. Even now Benefits work in silos, they each calculate it on their own discrete systems, and upgrading the whole system and making certain that it all talks the same language and is accessible through a range of security protocols to everyone who needs to have access to it is a very large journey to set out on. That is exactly what we are doing.

  171. But we are only setting out on it now.
  172. (Mr Brown) No.

    (Mr Lewis) I should like to add something to that because it is the case that some of our core benefit systems do need replacement and that is under way now. It is not all about tomorrow. We have made some huge investments in recent years which are there now. Members of the Committee will have seen, for example, in their own visits the new job point touch terminals which are being rolled out now into not just every Jobcentre Plus office but into almost every job centre in the country and that by the end of this financial year will be virtually complete. That is a huge advance. It means that literally at the press of a button somebody coming into a job centre can find any of our 400,000 Plus jobs at any moment. We have got now as well, and have had for a year or more, all of our jobs on the net. We have become the most heavily visited Government web site in terms of people searching for work on the net. We are about to introduce our national employer direct service working through 11 call centres where employers will be able to notify job vacancies through a single telephone number nationwide in a much more efficient and effective way than we do now. It is really great to say that we have been winning some awards, national and international, for those new pieces of major technological advance. It is not all about what is coming in tomorrow. There is lots more to do but there has been some really tremendous progress and I am very proud of it.

    (Mr Brown) There is also the front of office technology as well.

  173. I know there always seem to be shifting targets with IT but until you get to the stage where computer shall speak unto computer, as you put it, have you any idea how long it is going to be until we get that kind of integration? We did hear evidence that the IT stuff was still not very good. We also heard that it was good. That is what I picked up on a visit from some of the staff.
  174. (Mr Brown) There are some things in the front of office where we have already made some changes and the equipment is new and modern. It is not holistic throughout the service, I have to say, and there are still investments that we need to make.

  175. When are you going to make them, is the question?
  176. (Mr Brown) With the front of office the programme will be finished by something like the end of this year. The heavier question of course is not about that but is about the way that the information we have is held, not so much for the Employment Service but for the benefits functions.

    (Mr Lewis) There is a major programme in the DWP department, work and pensions-wide, which has a whole number of major initatives attached to it. Some of that is happening now and we are rolling out now what we call EOI(?), which is the replacement of desk-top terminals throughout the existing major public face arrangements. We do have plans over a two to three year period for replacing what are called the legacy systems, those core systems that contain the benefit claims of millions of individuals. That is, as you can imagine, a very major programme not just to introduce all of that massive change but to make sure that we keep the existing systems running in the meantime and the customers do not notice any deterioration in the service to them. That programme is going ahead, there are plans for it, the investment is there, and our staff will love it if it is completed even sooner but it is undoubtedly under way.

  177. Do you think Jobcentre Plus can work in the intervening two to three years? You have talked about trying to keep it going and introduce the new stuff, which is always very hard.
  178. (Mr Brown) Yes is the answer to that, but it is hard work and frankly this is an appropriate moment to pay tribute to the people who are working for us who are committed to the Jobcentre Plus model and who are doing the work both front of house cheerfully and well and also providing the back-up support which is not seen by the public but is also very important, and with equipment that is frankly antiquated and which you are quite right to urge us to replace. We have a programme for replacement. I am chary about giving timescales for two reasons.

  179. There is always slippage.
  180. (Mr Brown) No. We are being pretty hard-headed about all this but there are still discussions with the Treasury that have to come to a conclusion and there are also of course discussions with our private sector partners and there is an element of commercial confidentiality in all of that.

    Mrs Humble

  181. May I just re-visit a couple of areas that you answered questions on previously? In answer to Andrew Selous when he was talking about case loading and the length of time that the personal assistants needed to spend with people, you gave a very comprehensive answer about how you expect people to work with clients, but then in answer to Karen and talking about agreements with local authorities Leigh Lewis said that he expected personal advisers to deal with issues that were not necessarily to do with what was going on in the building but things outside, namely, housing benefit, council tax benefit and so on. Given that these personal advisers are going to be doing a complex job in their initial interviews and then maintaining that ongoing contact, do you seriously think that you have got the staffing levels right? Have you got sufficient staff to do this very important job?
  182. (Mr Brown) On the housing benefit question there are two aspects to it. One is about the administration of housing benefit which is the responsibility of the local authorities. Ideally I would like us to be able to work far more closely with local authorities than we do at the minute. I genuinely believe, and it is the advice that has been put to me as a Minister as well, that there would be change overload if we tried to somehow alter the relationship between the Department and the local authorities even in terms of exchanging information and so on whilst we are trying to implement all these other changes as well. I found the case persuasive, I have to say. On the calculation of the housing benefit entitlement, that of course is something we have to take an interest in, because we are trying to explain to a client the difference in their real income, their post tax income, between being on benefit and being in work. Of course housing benefit is part of that calculation. We can do that bit of it in-house. The adjustment of benefit is a calculation to help the client with their decision making. I think we are slightly talking about two separate issues.

  183. My question is much more focused on whether or not you are going to have sufficient personal advisers to continue to deliver that quality of service that is the starting point that we are all at.
  184. (Mr Brown) If the volume of work increases we will have to get extra advisers. We cannot reduce the quality of the service, if that is the question.

  185. The personal advisers we met in the ONE pilots seemed to be enjoying their job but we were also very much aware that they were giving advice across a whole range, and clearly you have listened to some of those observations by differentiating the specific benefits adviser in the Jobcentre Plus pilot, but there was a concern that with the roll-out of the service through Jobcentre Plus there were going to be implications for staffing to continue to maintain that high quality. Can you continue to do that?
  186. (Mr Brown) We are committed to maintaining the high quality service and if that requires more people as demand goes up then we will have to get more people. I really do believe that very strongly.

    (Mr Lewis) The point I was trying to make, and apologies if I did not quite express it clearly enough, was not that in that situation a personal adviser would somehow take over the work of the local authority on housing benefit. It was more that if somebody who has been dealing with that personal adviser comes in and says, "I would really like to take this job. I am having great difficulty working out from the local authority what my housing benefit position would be", I would very much hope and want the personal adviser not to say, "I am awfully sorry; that is nothing to do with me", but to say, "I will ring my colleague in the local authority so that we can sort this out".

    Mrs Humble: I understood that and in fact I was hoping that that was what you meant because that surely was the whole point of setting up the scheme, that there was the one person who was going to look after your every need and be there for you.

    Mr Stewart: Just like an MP!

    Mrs Humble

  187. So I am pleased that you can reassure me on that. Secondly, we had some answers on the extent of the new training for the Jobcentre Plus staff. You were talking, Mr Lewis, about making sure that the personal assistants would be looking at an individual and looking at all their circumstances. Within that training can you just reassure me that you are equipping your staff with appropriate diagnostic tools to differentiate between those people who are work ready, or should be work ready with perhaps just a little advice, and those people who are not and then making sure that they are dealing with them in the most appropriate way possible?
  188. (Mr Lewis) Yes, I can give you that assurance. I do not want to suggest to the Committee that somehow every one of our advisers can become totally expert in everything but yes, drawing on experience, not just from ONE pilots but from the New Deals where we have introduced something called the higher progress clip(?), we are trying to equip our advisers with the ability to be able to ascertain people's needs and the scale of their development opportunities so that they can make better informed choices and give better advice to people as to how they maintain their missions forward.

    Miss Begg

  189. Minister, you made reference in your opening statement and explained why you have begun to roll out Jobcentre Plus before ONE was finished. I am not sure exactly what your plans are with regard to continuing the roll-out because you say in your memorandum that you sent us that you have offered the private and voluntary sector providers an extension to their contracts of one year from April 2002, and you go on to say: "At the end of such a contract period" - which will be April 2003 - "we will have more concrete plans about how and at what rate we will extend Jobcentre Plus across the country". Can you clarify for us what your plans are for extension of Jobcentre Plus in the future? My second question is this. We know that good services do not come cheaply. Are you confident that the resources will be made available for the development of Jobcentre Plus so that you can provide the service that you would like to?
  190. (Mr Brown) The Government is committed to the Jobcentre Plus service delivery and that does not mean that we will not evaluate the different pilots that we have under way and learn lessons from them and draw them into the developing Jobcentre Plus service because of course we will. If others have suggestions or ideas that they want to contribute then of course we will listen but it is our intention to roll out the Jobcentre Plus model at the same high standard currently seen in the pilots right across the country. I would like to be able to say to the Committee that I can tell you how many years that is going to take and I can tell you how much money is going to be applied to it, but those discussions are currently the subject of the spending round bid with the Treasury and it is not for me to put the outcome into the public domain now. However, I can give the Committee an assurance that there will be a significant further development of Jobcentre Plus over this year and that there will be a rolling programme to make sure that the whole of the country has Jobcentre Plus centres and that the service is of the standard that we provide now, if not enhanced.

  191. Are you convinced, and I know that you are not going to tell us exactly how well you are doing in the spending round, that the will is there in the Government to put the resources behind such an idea?
  192. (Mr Brown) Yes. The Government is committed to Jobcentre Plus and it will be rolled out and there will be a significant further expansion of it this year.

    Chairman

  193. Can I press you on that last question?
  194. (Mr Brown) I am sorry I cannot quantify it. I have seen the draft figures but you must not press me on it.

  195. I perfectly well understand the position you have taken. I can tell you on the roll-out that if it gets elongated you might end up with certain parts of the country being prejudiced because they do not get access to the service.
  196. (Mr Brown) I want to avoid that.

  197. I will settle for that. And you will do your best, honest, guv? You were quite right, by way of conclusion, to say that we do owe a debt to the staff because it was quite clear to the Committee that, although there might be implementation problems of various kinds and you want to engage with them in a positive way and I hope our report does do that, you can certainly see that the staff who are working in the new set-up are running around with their heads a good deal higher psychologically (if I can put it that way) than some of the hard worked staff who we have seen in some of the Benefits Agency offices that we have seen in the past. That is an important sign, is it not? Your visits are like ours. You certainly come away convinced of the commitment of the staff and the valuable work that they do, and we do not often enough recognise that perhaps.
  198. (Mr Brown) I am pleased that the Committee has experiences have been the same as mine. I was genuinely impressed by what I saw.

  199. You have helped us enormously this afternoon, Minister. I know that these things take a lot of work at ministerial level as well as at staff level. We are really very grateful for that; it has been very helpful. I hope we will get a full community report made available to the public before too long.

(Mr Brown) Thank you very much for the opportunity.