Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
MP, MR LEIGH
(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
focussed 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 viewlet there be no misunderstanding
about thisthat 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.
301. There was a man swinging a chain on the
second floor of Harlesden on Friday.
(Mr Brown) 600,000 people have gone 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
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.
302. I do not want to get bogged down in this.
(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.
303. 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
(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.
304. I would hope every incident would always
be reported, with due respect.
(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
305. There is a trend. Reassure me about the
trend, Mr Lewis?
(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 customer
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, while 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.
306. 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 in some
of the pathfinder projects, the interim payment procedures are
to be paid as manual payments as a result. Is it holding you back
in terms of processing?
(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 itlet me be quite candid with the Committeein
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 Mr. 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.
307. 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 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?
(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
308. 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.
(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
(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 pathfinder offices were
allowed to go liveand I sought this personallyI
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.
309. 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. The private sectorwe have had evidence from
themappear 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
(Mr Brown) There are actually three questions in there.
310. He is only allowed two.
(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 itand it is
after all a pilotand 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 knowand the evidence is overwhelming,
and the Committee I know has received a great deal of itis
that our proactive approach to the labour market through the New
Deals does make a difference.
311. That is a wider matter.
(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
1999 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 thatand these are very rough figures but it gives
you an idea of itis 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 moneyand these
are relatively small sums of money given the Department's total
budgeton piloting a range of different ideas and a range
of different providers to see how we can make a difference.
312. 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"?
(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
313. 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
(Mr Brown) Yes. This is a difference of political
opinion rather than an evidence based discussion.
314. We cannot have differences of political
opinion, that would be too difficult.
(Mr Brown) Yes. Perhaps.
315. I am seeking to focus on the evidence of
success of the pilot schemes.
(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 toI
do not see why I should do this for you but since we are old friends
let me draw your attention to itis 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 addressingthis
is really as a result of the ONE Pilot findingsthe 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.
316. If I may rest on this point, Chairman,
before being led in this mellifluous language on to aif
I may mix my metaphorsred 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?
(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-focussed
interviews does it really upset the process or do people cope
with it? We have all that evidence and that is affecting 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-focussed 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-focussed 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
a sign of having an effect.
317. How long will it take?
(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.
318. This employment effect might start to show
(Mr Stanton) That will be the point when we take the
(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.
319. 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?
(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
78 Reference made to a supplementary memorandum which
was submitted by the Public and Commercial Services Union to the
Committee on 21 January 2002. Back
Subsequent to the evidence session the Department for Work and
Pensions stated that the ONE Pilots should run until 2003. Back