Q 155Steve Webb: It is 2.9 million. However, if local authorities have to make progress on child poverty, but no local authority has a local authority number because the figures are national, it is hard for them to know if they are making progress. They do not know, and I do not know how they could know.
Richard Kemp: That is why we want more partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions.
Q 156Steve Webb: On that point, let me move on to the question I was getting to about benefit take-up, joint working and so on. It constantly drives me madand it drives real people madthat if someone gets a low-paid job, they have to tell the tax credit people, housing benefit, council tax benefit, jobseekers allowance people and so on. You have to tell everybodyprobably several times over in different forms and at different times. Why is it so difficult? Is it, pejoratively, your fault or is it their fault that these things cannot be brought together so that one set of informationperhaps comprehensive informationis given to one person?
You mentioned one-stop shops and housing benefit administration. Why is it that you cannot simply take the information that has already been given? We keep hearing about take-up pilots and that we are going to make benefit entitlement automatic, but it never bloomin well happens. What is the problem?
Richard Kemp: Local government was not too good at benefit collection 10 or 12 years ago. We have made a massive improvement now, according to the benefit fraud inspectorate. For our own taxes and benefits, large numbers of authorities are four-star and improving. In those areas, we believe that there is proven competence. There is a reach into the communities, so our offer is to take it over.
We have had a series of small pilots, but no one from central Government has yet been prepared to try out a proper full-scale pilot. There will be difficulties; we will have to learn how to do things and I am not saying that we should do it like that nationally. However, where local government has proven itself to be an external regulator, I do not know why we cannot have a full-scale, quick experiment to see what we can do.
Paul Carter: But we have a horribly complex system. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. They lose their job and have to sign on, and I am told that that is a horrible, protracted process. Thankfully, I have never personally experienced it, but I run a construction
Q 157Steve Webb: Has the situation become worse with tax credits? In a sense, it was once just the good old Department of Health and Social Security, or whatever it was at the time. Now the Inland RevenueHMRCis far more involved in the day-to-day lives of families with children through the tax credit system. Has it got worse on the ground? Is it more difficult to bring these things together?
Richard Kemp: I certainly have nothing more than anecdotal evidence. Perhaps you are indicating an area that we ought to look at. I know that the people come to my advice centre with the fear of having to repay things. There is a fear factor, but whether that is a real factor, I do not know.
Q 158Helen Goodman: I am not going to take the Committee down the path of defending the great transformation that is under way at the moment in the way that benefits are delivered. Instead, I would like to ask the witnesses about their relationships with the voluntary sector. Local government finds central Government quite inflexible, and I think that sometimes the voluntary sector finds local government a little bit inflexible. I was wondering how you were intending to use the new partnership arrangements in the Bill to work with the voluntary sector, and whether you think that the provisions in the Bill are helpful and adequate.
Richard Kemp: When I spoke at the House of Lords Select Committee this afternoon, I invited their lordships to join me on 16 November, and I will invite you to join me as well. At the Local Government Association, we are taking up that challenge, but in a wider sense. If we are going to deal with the multiple problems to society, particularly at a time when public sector finances are going to be severely constrained, we need to create a new set of relationships between the public, private and voluntary sectors. We are defining that partly as kit, cash and culture. Although I know that it would not apply in this particular field, we should ask what equipment we can use to help with things, for example that would affect adult social care. How will we introduce new cash into the system? We all look down on each other and tie ourselves into contracts that keep us at the lowest possible level, rather than capturing the innovation and energy that those three sectors can bring, so how will we work together better?
I am not saying that we are starting off from a bad base, because the national compacts, the community empowerment networks and the local compacts are beginning to move us forward, but what we are looking at is a step change. That is where I come back to benefits, because I do not think that there is a separate argument. People in our communities know that there are jobs to be done. They know that the people currently doing nothing could do them, and they would use
Kevan Collins: I think this goes back to Ms Bucks point. I think that the segmentation of the responsibilities is really important: where central Government have their responsibility; where local government have theirs; and where community groups and the third sector have theirs. I am not sure that that settlement has yet been reached. I am absolutely clear that the powers of opportunity are there in the way in which the Bill has been drafted. There are things that only the third sector can do, particularly when you get to the localisation of getting people back into work or into work quickly. It is not just about learning how to write a CVyou do that only oncebut about getting you job-ready for tomorrow and linking that back to the community sector.
Where I live and work there are some striking issues in relation to belief systems about the value of being in work, which to me is fundamental to getting out of poverty, and that takes you into faith groups and to the work we do with mosques and churches. That is critical to changing peoples attitudes and relationship to work where it may have been broken down for a long time. I think that there are very important roles and responsibilities, but the issue of segmenting and clarifying who is responsible for what is key to that local plan. To answer your question directly, I do think that the right kind of arrangements are there for us to do that.
Q 159Helen Goodman: Following up on that, would you say that the experience of bidding for money from the future jobs fund, which is intended to be Government money from DWP for moving people from benefits to things that have community benefit, has been a good precedent that could be built on in that arena?
Richard Kemp: That depends on who you are asking and where you are asking them. I know about that because Ministers acknowledged that the Local Government Association had a major role to play in producing that money. In my area, that has been passed down for one council to deal with on behalf of the county, and it has then been passed to another agency and another. When we discussed it at the central-local partnership, I foresaw it as being a direct relationship,
Paul Carter: It worries me enormously that we have to find those 1,700 jobs. I want to give all those 1,700 people, and particularly the young people, a really good experience of work every six months, so we must not just create jobs for the sake of jobs so that people will go and do a bit of community work here and there. Their self-esteem and ambitions must be raised as a consequence of being on the programme. Finding so many jobs in community improvement that satisfy those criteria is a massively big ask.
The other thing that worries me is the cliff edge at the end of it. Having got them into work, got them out of bed, got them alarm clocks and got them motivated, there is a cliff edge at six months. We want to try to create a longer opportunity for sustainable work opportunity beyond six months, but that is difficult. A massive amount of public money is going into it and that is well-intended, but how we go about it, to do exactly what I have just said, is difficult.
Helen Goodman: You may be anxious about how you are going to find 1,700 jobs, but you must have put in a good bid, because you got the money to do it.
Paul Carter: And we are grateful.
The Chairman: If Members have no further questions, that brings us to the end of our business for today. On behalf of the Committee, I thank very much indeed Richard Kemp, Colin Green, Catherine Fitt, Paul Carter and Kevan Collins.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. (Mr. Mudie.)
Adjourned till Thursday 22 October at Nine oclock.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2009||Prepared 21 October 2009|