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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 479-iv
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Work and Pensions Committee
THE ROLE OF JOBCENTRE PLUS IN THE REFORMED WELFARE SYSTEM
Wednesday 16 October 2013
Kathleen caper, COUNCILLOR sharon taylor and COUNCILLOR peter john
Evidence heard in Public Questions 282 - 377
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Taken before the Work and Pensions Committee
on Wednesday 16 October 2013
Dame Anne Begg (Chair)
Anne Marie Morris
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Kathleen Caper, Senior Policy Researcher, Citizens Advice, Councillor Sharon Taylor, Deputy Chair, Local Government Association, and Chair, Finance Panel and Labour Leader of Stevenage Borough Council, and Councillor Peter John, Executive Member for Skills and Employment, London Councils, and Labour Leader of Southwark Council, gave evidence.
Q282 Chair: Can I welcome our witnesses this morning to our fourth oral evidence session in our inquiry into the role of Jobcentre Plus in the changed welfare landscape? Starting with Cllr John, please introduce yourselves for the record?
Cllr John: My name is Cllr Peter John. I am the leader of Southwark Council and the Executive Member for Children, Young People, Employment and Skills on London Councils.
Cllr Taylor: I am Cllr Sharon Taylor. I am Chair of the Finance Panel at the Local Government Association and leader of Stevenage Borough Council in Hertfordshire.
Kathleen Caper: I am Kathleen Caper. I am a Senior Policy Researcher for Citizens Advice.
Q283 Chair: Thanks very much for coming along this morning. The first question is to the two councillors about the local support services framework that is to be set up on the introduction of Universal Credit. The intention of the local support services framework is to provide better support under Universal Credit than has ever been available before. Do you agree the Framework provides an opportunity to achieve this?
Cllr Taylor: I am hoping there is a huge opportunity here for local government, for other partners involved and for the clients that we will be looking after. We have been very pleased with the close working we have been doing with the DWP and with Lord Freud on this. We have a vision of a locally commissioned and very diversely sourced range of support to Universal Credit claimants. We think that local government will be very well placed to help in this work because, uniquely, we both deal with the complex needs of the clients and have a good working relationship with our local businesses, so we can see the kind of labour market intelligence that is coming through. We hope that we will be able to support this work in the local support services framework and help deliver the best service possible to clients.
Cllr John: I think it provides an exciting opportunity. At the moment, the lack of clarity and certainty as to what is going to be our role and responsibility adds to a level of difficulty in absolutely saying, "This is wonderful". The sooner the DWP is able to provide certainty and clarity as to what the role of the local authority is going to be-
Q284 Chair: Is that because they are not clear yet what the role of JCP is going to be in all of this, and what has to be handled at the local authority level and what has to be outsourced separately, as opposed to what is going to be held in Jobcentre Plus?
Cllr John: I think so, yes.
Cllr Taylor: We urgently need the budget information. Councils will be settling their budgets for 20142015, looking at them in December and then making the decisions on them in February or March. The sooner we can have the information around the funding of this, the sooner and better we will be able to plan for what our role is going to be.
Q285 Chair: Can you give us an idea of the different functions you think that local authorities should be carrying out as part of the LSSF? What is it you think that local authorities will be able to do or deliver?
Cllr Taylor: We want to try and integrate the work with claimants in some of the other roles that local authorities have. It is making the links between further education providers, for example. If I can give you an example, my local FE college is able to tailor the delivery of even very quick training packages to meet the needs of employers to help claimants back into work. Local authorities can make those contacts between the two; it is about this partnershipworking relationship with JCP, making sure when we get claimants into work it is sustainable work, so that they are not coming in and out of the benefits system constantly and causing both that level of disruption to their families and great cost to the public purse.
Q286 Chair: Surely that is the role of Jobcentre Plus and not the role of local authorities.
Cllr Taylor: Jobcentre Plus is doing that in some areas, but it is not consistent around the country. About one third of our members say that they are not getting that kind of working relationship with Jobcentre Plus. We hope that, by integrating local authorities in with this process, we will be able to improve that overall around the country.
Q287 Chair: That is a new function. What about the functions that local authorities already do within the benefit system, such as the checking and delivery of housing benefit? What happens to all your people who are presently working for the Council who do the housing benefit claims? Are they going to be made redundant or redeployed? Is there another job for them to do?
Cllr John: Our concern is that we are going to lose some of that expertise. London authorities are already reporting that housing benefit staff are drifting away because of the uncertainty of their future role. It does present a challenge in that regard.
Cllr Taylor: That is the urgency of the funding decisions. We need to know so we can give our workforce some certainty. We have a huge level of expertise in local government and it would be an awful shame to lose that. With the current local government funding situation, it will be very difficult for us to deploy people into other areas. We hope that the funding issues around the local support services framework will be resolved quickly, so that we can give our staff some certainty and we can start planning to deliver that opportunity in terms of a better service.
Q288 Chair: I asked the question about housing benefit because, slightly light-heartedly, I asked people in my own local authority who work in housing benefits, "Are you expecting to lose your job when Universal Credit comes in?" They said, "No, because we will be needed to do the checking of the documentation". They saw that there was a role for them, but you have not mentioned that. Do you think that is part of the support that you will still be expected to do? Is that something that JCP will either do themselves or outsource to Citizens Advice perhaps? Obviously there still has to be that face- to-face meeting and the checking of documents.
Cllr Taylor: These issues still have to be resolved, and what a shame it would be if we lost that expertise among our own staff to be able to do that. It should tie in with other roles. The way that benefits staff currently work with clients provides a good background to them of the whole complex circumstances that may exist within those families. That is one of the areas where we feel we can really help with DWP work because of the understanding our staff have through that very close process. If you are working through checking documents and so on with clients, you do develop a relationship with them.
Q289 Chair: What about budgeting advice and those kinds of things?
Cllr Taylor: We do some of that ourselves and some is commissioned through the voluntary sector, Citizens Advice Bureau and others. Again, that is another area where we feel partnership working will greatly benefit in the DWP project.
Q290 Chair: Can I turn to Citizens Advice? According to your written submission, you believe that DWP has been "frustratingly unclear on what exactly the LSSF will look like". I am still not that clear myself and I have a feeling that that is still the case. Which specific aspects of the local support services framework need greater clarity?
Kathleen Caper: The funding levels and the expected volumes. I know DWP has been working on volumetrics for the LSSF, but that information has not been released. One of the reasons for that will be that the changing timetable for Universal Credit roll-out will be affecting that as well. However, without having a strong sense of the funding levels that will be available and what their real, true expectation is of local authorities and the voluntary sector, it is just impossible to start planning at this stage. Our belief is that Jobcentre Plus really needs to be building its networks locally now, in order to be able to deploy appropriate support as soon as Universal Credit starts rolling out.
Q291 Chair: So you think the delay in the roll-out should be giving DWP and Jobcentre Plus the time to get themselves organised actually to quantify exactly what is needed and everything that should be delivered.
Kathleen Caper: Absolutely. The delay is actually an opportunity for them to ensure that support is in place in time for Universal Credit.
Q292 Anne Marie Morris: The issue of IT and the challenge for those coming to jobcentres in using IT are much debated. While a number of jobcentres have upped their game, improved the facilities they have and provided advice and support to claimants-I am talking generally, not just about Universal Credit-do you believe that to date enough steps have been taken and that IT support is as it needs to be? Kathleen commented specifically that she believes they should be commissioning external providers. In a sense, that is almost part two, because there is clearly something you think is not working now which leads you to conclude that you need external providers. What is not quite working and why is an external provider going to be better? Maybe Kathleen can think of a response.
Kathleen Caper: For Jobseeker’s Allowance, Citizens Advice is currently largely deployed online now. We have good experience of claimants engaging on that level. Though there are internet access devices in very many Jobcentre Plus services, they do not have staff support to help people with that process. They are quite frequently told to go to their local library or go to their local Citizens Advice Bureau. Neither libraries nor Citizens Advice Bureaux have the support available to assist people with the detailed level that they need to navigate online claims.
The reason we think that it should be commissioned externally is there is likely to be a period of five years, say, where there will be very high demand for support. We do not think that this should be something that Jobcentre Plus needs to deploy itself. Commissioning it externally would mean that they can get expert support in the community available to those claimants who need the additional digital support to understand how to use the systems. Then they will be able to self-service through internet access devices in jobcentres themselves. I think we will see a ramping up of the support demand, which will taper down over time. I do not think it is good usage of JCP resources to be trying to do that in JCP itself.
Q293 Anne Marie Morris: Effectively, you are saying that you do not need JCP individuals to become specialists in an area that they will not use long term.
Kathleen Caper: Exactly.
Anne Marie Morris: My question would be: while that clearly logically makes sense, given the nature of the system-which is specific to benefits, welfare clams etc-there needs to be some knowledge of any IT provider that enables them to work/use/advise on your systems. That would be a question mark. I suppose I would have a further question, which is: if you do use these external people, how would you get them upskilled and how would you deploy them? Would you deploy them in the jobcentre? Would you deploy them in people’s homes? How would you use them? Are you looking for more fluidity than that just in the jobcentre? One of the points that you made was that they would come to the CAB or the library; would you see them having a role there as well?
Kathleen Caper: There will probably need to be different types of support in different areas, depending on need. Rural areas will have different requirements compared with urban areas in the access that people will have to the internet. I am specifically thinking about the Government’s digital strategy overall. It is not only about skilling people up in their ability to access online DWP services, but their more general access to information technology, which will also increase their employability over time. This is a part of the reason why I think it needs to be extended beyond the JCP walls.
Cllr Taylor: We have learnt a lot from pilots in this. I went to have a look at the pilot in North Dorset, and there are definitely different issues in urban and rural areas. There was a JCP drop-in point in one of the market towns where claimants could go and use the IT and get some support on that. However, for claimants to get there, it was a four hour round-trip by bus and something like an £18 bus fare. It was very difficult for them to actually make that journey in, and then they relied on support in the limited time they had there. For example, if they fit that in between school hours, there was limited time while there to provide the support. This is an area where councils can really help because we are dealing with migrating our wider customer base on to self-service issues anyway. Hopefully we will be able to support clients.
I absolutely agree with the CAB on the ramping up of this, and then there will be a tailing off. There almost certainly will be a fairly intensive period of time when we need to help support clients with this IT. That means both the provision of equipment to do it and the support for clients in managing the process through. There is going to be a very intensive period when they will need some support.
Q294 Anne Marie Morris: I have a rural constituency where we have real challenges. In the rural case, wherever the central point is, there is always a challenge of whether there is a bus that is going to get you there. Do you have any thoughts or bold ideas as to how one deals with rural communities, where sometimes frankly broadband access is not what it might be and the bus service makes it very difficult for them to come to any central point?
Cllr Taylor: It is one of the areas that our pilots are looking at very intensively. If you would like some specific feedback from those pilots, we are happy to feed that in to the Committee because they have developed some expertise in this issue. I am not saying they have solved the problem, because they have not yet. Broadband access is definitely an issue in those areas. Even in the market towns, the broadband access is not always wonderful. They are trying to look at touchdown points even in very small localities, so parish and town councils are helping with this. That is an area that we could provide you some more evidence on, if you would like it.
Q295 Graham Evans: During the recess, I made a point of finding out the amount of help that is available if you are unemployed, irrespective of age group-40s, 50s or people who are not familiar with the internet-and I was amazed by it. I do not know if I am unique, but I have two Jobcentre Pluses–one in Northwich and one in Runcorn. I have photographs here of the services that are available. There is an Exchange Group around the corner from the Jobcentre Plus that essentially says, "Get the skills, get the job". I then went on to the Jobcentre Plus, and it says, "The work you want, the help you need". There was plenty of room for help and support to get yourself onto the internet and learn about the internet. Then I went to Cheshire West and Chester’s local authority support and it is called the Work Zone: "All the help you need to get a job". It seems to me that there is an awful lot of very good, helpful stuff already in place.
Is it not possible to look at the positives in the councils and the networks that are already in place, and use those as examples of how other local authorities and the third party sector work to get to that? I do not think I am unique in the way that everybody-local authorities, the private sector businesses, the colleges and the CAB-is working together. My unemployment figures are down from 2010. It does not matter what age group, nor experience on the internet. There seems to be help and support and hand-holding at every stage.
Cllr Taylor: One of the key roles of the Local Government Association is to share that practice around. That is both what we have learnt from the pilots on the Universal Credit roll-out, but also more generally in supporting everybody across the age ranges, from our very young unemployed-those people who are not in employment, education or training-through to the wider group including those who get made redundant in their mid to late 50s and may not have those IT skills because they did not need them when they started working. I do see that as a key role for local government in supporting our communities to do that.
The other thing is to think about what the future jobs market is going to need and developing, with our local employers, the kinds of skills they are going to be looking at for the future, and working together with them, further education and partners in the voluntary sector to help people keep their skills up to date and develop their skills to meet future employment needs, not just what is there now. I agree with you; there is some good practice around and sharing that is really vital. At the Local Government Association, we do that all the time in terms of promoting where there is good stuff going on such as you have described and making sure our members are aware of that.
Q296 Glenda Jackson: I just want to clarify something here. You have referred to a spike and then a tail off. What is the basic problem here? Is it IT ignorance-and I am a member of that school-or is it the actual complexity of the claim itself?
Kathleen Caper: Our experience at this stage, which we understand from Jobseeker’s Allowance and things like that because Universal Credit has not rolled out, is it is predominantly a matter of skills and access to hardware-it is about being able to understand using computers and the logic of computers. It is not the complexity of the form itself, but understanding the internet and so forth. Then further to that is actual access to a computer that is sufficiently connected to the internet.
Q297 Glenda Jackson: The Government has been telling us that people will be able to make claims on their phones and also that they will be able to use internet cafés. Are you looking at those access points at the moment, and could you incorporate them into this LSSF, whatever it eventually turns out to be?
Kathleen Caper: If I could refer to Graham Evans’s response here, there is a huge amount of provision already in communities. The challenge is going to be the volume of demand as Universal Credit comes online. That is where there is going to be a real challenge for those providers; there is a massive increase in need in those communities.
Q298 Glenda Jackson: What I am trying to drill down to here is: do you envisage a situation under an LSSF scheme of those kinds of access points being under some kind of overarching local authority umbrella, so that people can be confident of making a claim in an internet café that it is going to be safe and there will not be security issues as far as they are concerned? Will somebody be checking to see that in fact what they are receiving as support and help is on the nose?
Cllr Taylor: Your question goes right to the heart of what we are saying. This is a partnership project, where local government takes the overarching responsibility but everybody else works within that framework so that we are making sure that provision is there, and not only is the provision there, but the security for people. You spoke about filling in these forms on your phone. It probably is possible, but any of us that have tried to do anything on a phone, even if you are just trying to buying something online, know it is still quite difficult. If people need support through that process, I think local government can actually help to provide that umbrella that says, "Where is the provision? Who is supporting that provision?" For us, the logical way forward is to have that in place in local areas, as Graham Evans said, using every resource and facility that is available so that people have a choice of where they go for their help and support.
Q299 Glenda Jackson: Can you envisage a situation whereby the validity of those access points is going to be authorised by the local authority? Simply anecdotally, in my own constituency, where people go for advice tends to be areas that have nothing whatever to do with the local authority. Obviously, the CAB is primary here. I am trying to find out whether there is some way of validating those access points. Should that be the responsibility of the local authority if this LSSF comes in, or should that be the responsibility of Jobcentre Plus?
Cllr Taylor: The local authority can sit in the centre of that and help. We are very used to working in partnership, and our vision is to have the local authority at the centre of this wider partnership to help deliver across the board of Jobcentre Plus. Further education colleges and certainly the voluntary sector providers like Citizens Advice Bureau can help with this. Our vision is making sure that, wherever you touch down, that support is there and is validated and secure for the people who are using it.
Q300 Glenda Jackson: You referred to the minimal roll-out of Universal Credit. As we know, that is almost exclusively dealing with the easiest applicants. In all your considerations, are you also taking on board those people who will find this new system incredibly difficult, simply because of their own mental health or maybe some form of physical disability? Is that something that you are-
Cllr Taylor: Certainly, for the complex families that we deal with.
Glenda Jackson: Perfect phrase, thank you.
Cllr Taylor: I do not like the term, "troubled families" particularly. There are the complex families we are working with, where there are a number of issues within that family to be resolved, one of which may be worklessness. To be able to bring that whole package of support together for them, including helping them with any gap in IT skills and supporting them where they may be very worried and frightened by filling in these long and complex forms, is something where local government very much sees its role. You will know that this is an area where we are already working in the framework of a community budgeting approach. Taking all the agencies-whether it is health, sometimes the police service, certainly mental health services and many others-we think there are huge savings to be achieved across the public sector by our working in this way. Where we have had community budgeting already, we have had assessments done of it that show very significant savings available. It is where the Local Government Association’s Rewiring campaign is driving forward, to say we think we can bring all this together in a way that will make huge savings across the public sector.
Q301 Anne Marie Morris: We have touched on budgets-that lovely topic-briefly, and you have made it very clear that, without further specifications to what the LSSF is going to look like, it is very hard for you to budget. As I understand it, the plan is to publish an outline version shortly, then for a comprehensive version to be published in the autumn of 2014. Clearly Universal Credit is supposed to be coming on stream completely by 2017. Does that timeline satisfy your needs and enable you to budget appropriately to hit that 2017 deadline? It would be helpful to understand how those decisions are made so we can understand what, why and when, because I suspect you are going to be telling me you would rather have it sooner. If I understand the budgeting process, that would help.
Cllr Taylor: You are right. The answer is the sooner the better, certainly as far as local government is concerned, but I am sure for our partners as well. Because of the situation of funding generally in local government, most of us are now not looking at budgeting over a oneyear period, but over the next three years. We want to be able to plan how we are going to manage this part of our work in line with other budget savings that we are having to deliver. The sooner we have the clear indication of what local government’s role in the local support services framework is going to be, the budget that is allocated to that and how that is going to be distributed between JCP and local government, the clearer we can be about how we need to take that forward both in terms of staffing and other issues that we may need to be thinking about.
Q302 Anne Marie Morris: I understand, when you plan, you say it is long term and not just for a year, but the Government is saying it will be published in detail in 2014 ready for 2017. That is three years; is that adequate? If not, why not?
Cllr Taylor: I suspect it will not be the case that nothing is going to happen until 2017, and we are going to know in 2014. I suspect we will have to cope with a phased roll-out between now and then, in which case the sooner we have the information the better. Even if it is not happening until 2017, if we know that now, we can start planning ahead for it and both making sure that we are keeping the resources and the staff we have, if we are going to keep them, and planning for training for new skills, if we have new roles coming in that we want to make sure we have adequate staff in place for. It really is the sooner we can get some clarity around this, the better. I cannot speak for our voluntary sector partners, but I am sure things are no different for them. Because budgets are so tight, we just do not have the flexibility in our budgets to move things around quickly and meet new needs quickly. If we can have some clarity about this sooner rather than later, it will be extremely helpful.
Cllr John: I anticipate we will have to move things around very quickly, though. We will probably be told about one week before final determination what we need to do and when we need to do it. That seems to be the experience of how things are rolled out and what local government gets. At the moment, though, we are having a discussion in a vacuum, where local authorities do not really know what their role and responsibility is going to be, and that is wholly unsatisfactory. Taking my authority, for instance, we have to find £25 million of savings next year and £40 million of savings the year after. How do we put budget aside or prepare in a meaningful way for something-we do not know what-we are going to be dealing with maybe two or three years down the road, when we are having to take that out of our budgets in any event? As Sharon has already said, the sooner the better, so we can prepare. That really is important, and it is also important that we are given adequate budgets in order to deal with whatever we have to deal with whenever it is identified.
Q303 Anne Marie Morris: The proof of the pudding will be what the outline is that is published shortly, and how far that goes down the line to the level of detail you need as compared to what will finally come out in 2014. Let’s move on. The Government is exploring the possibility of outcome-based funding for Universal Credit support. How do you think outcome-based funding would work in practice across the range of support services that are required?
Cllr Taylor: First of all, it is important to say that we want outcomes to be outcomes and not outputs. That is really important, because one of the problems we have had is the constant turnaround. Because there is a performance measurement of JCP staff that says "Just get people into a job" they are often turning around very quickly and coming back into JCP very quickly. We would like outcomes to be outcomes, and we are exploring with DWP funding models that are based on a formula with three components. They will be core funding, per client fees and then outcome payments. We are very keen that the outcomes are focused on reducing benefit dependency and improving labour market outcomes. That is making sure that the links we have with our employers to develop the skills that they are looking for are actually met through the process that is put in place, so that clients are actually developing skills that are needed in the market and we do not train 94,000 hairdressers if only 1,400 are needed. We are progressively ensuring that as many claimants as possible can manage their claims independently of publicly funded support.
We hope that local partnerships will be able to strike up the right note on what success looks like locally. It will not be the same around the country, and that is the important thing about local government involvement in this. My local employers are very focused on science, technology, engineering and maths-type careers. I am working with my local college; I launched my Jobs250 programme yesterday, which means that, if a client comes in and wants a job in that area, my local FE college will develop a specifically tailored, fast-track programme to get them some skills that will be useful to them in my local labour market. Those kinds of approaches are really important and will hopefully create sustainable employment for clients so they do not keep coming in and out of the benefits system. If outcomes mean real outcomes in terms of sustainable employment, I think that is going to be better for everybody concerned.
Cllr John: We are not opposed to an outcomes-based approach, per se. There would have to be much more clarity, as I think Sharon has already indicated, as to what outcomes are expected and details of payment mechanisms. It is also our view that, if a movement into employment is going to be the key outcome to be measured, we would want to see a more significant role for JCP and Work Programme providers as part of the LSSF.
Q304 Anne Marie Morris: That is helpful. I think what you say is absolutely on point. Clearly, if the outcome is to be employment–based, we need to be able to not only identify what we mean by employment, but also track what led to that individual outcome. I would be interested in Sharon’s thoughts. You have talked about a number of things that within your community you could do. You have an FE college that can provide you with support, so, in that example, hopefully there is an obvious and clear link between the intervention and the outcome, but that is a lovely example. If you were trying to have this outcome as opposed to output model-which I think is what we would all like to achieve-and the outcome is employment, it needs to be sensibly defined and clarified. How can we measure what interventions have made that difference? Clearly, going forward, if we know what works, we do more of it, and if we know what does not work, we do less of it.
Cllr Taylor: I would initially say that we want to properly test an outcome-based funding model, and to do that we need the figures, again. That is another reason for having the figures early. Clearly, we need to be sure. What has been happening is I do not think there has been really proper accurate measuring of those outcomes. We do see, as I say, people coming in and out of the labour market fairly quickly and sometimes they are underemployed, so they are not getting enough work. That is disruptive to their benefits; it is disruptive to all sorts of other things in their lives and puts a very heavy burden on voluntary sector partners.
The measurement of the outcomes is how many people we are getting into sustainable employment. There is good evidence that things like the Work Programme have not been very successful in doing that. I think that is because of the output measurement rather than the outcome measurement. We all need to work together on what a successful measurement of outcome is, and that should be sustainable employment. It may be looking at whether that person is still in that employment after six months and 12 months, for example, would be a better measurement than just getting them into a job.
Q305 Nigel Mills: I am just making sure I have not got a little lost somewhere in this discussion. What I am thinking is, if I came to you and said, "Can you help some claimants who are struggling to make their Universal Credit application online?" perhaps because they are not very used to IT and are not very good at monthly budgeting, I suspect the outcome you would want paying for would be based on their becoming IT literate and capable of dealing with UC themselves without more support, rather than on their being in sustained employment. Otherwise, you might find you are not getting paid for that work for quite a long time. Are we merging two different areas in terms of actual support for dealing with the Universal Credit and the wider area of support with getting people back into work?
Cllr Taylor: The measurement of getting people into this IT literacy area and helping and supporting them through the claims process is part of the core funding. The long-term aim for this, though, has to be to get people into sustained employment. That is why we need measures of that as well.
Q306 Nigel Mills: I was just thinking, when we have the LSSF-we do have some catchy acronyms, don’t we?-the outcomes that would be being funded or the success payments for that LSSF would be people not needing support to deal with the system any more rather than not being in the system at all, or getting much less out of the system.
Cllr Taylor: Absolutely, and there may be a combination of both, so the core funding and the per client fees, with an addition of outcome payments for long-term sustainable employment. That is why we have divided that into three parts when we have been looking at it, as to how it works across the board. We have these three distinct areas: core funding, per client fees and then the outcome-based measurement.
Q307 Nigel Mills: Should we have done this differently? Should we have just scrapped the Jobcentre Plus and given the local government responsibility in this area? I am not sure exactly what the jobcentre will be having to do.
Cllr Taylor: We do not want to lose the expertise of Jobcentre Plus in liaising with employers and clients, and providing that contact point for both. Certainly, although about one third of our councils have really good relationships with JCPs, we want to make that a good relationship across the country so that everybody has that good relationship and we work in partnership with one another. There is a huge range of expertise and knowledge in local government as there is in JCP, and we can share that.
Cllr John: I think it is an interesting challenge, actually. What do I think about that as an idea? I think it is quite interesting. There is a huge inconsistency between how local authorities interact with JCP. I thought until yesterday that Southwark’s interaction with JCP was pretty rubbish, quite frankly. I have never met anyone from JCP; they have never come and spoken to me. My cabinet member with responsibility has never met them over the last six months either. However, in a briefing from officers, I am told that we have an excellent relationship with JCP. That may be at an officer level, but I think that is a shame and that maybe also highlights the inconsistent approach. At the end of the day, I do not know a council leader in London or probably anywhere in the country who is not ambitious for jobs and growth, and getting people back into work. That is absolutely at the core of what they want to achieve. Anything that gives greater strength to the hand of local authorities to deliver on that ambition would be welcome. I think it is an interesting challenge, Mr Mills.
Q308 Graham Evans: I have just a quick point on that. I totally agree with you on that. Are you familiar with Altogether Better in terms of healthcare in local authorities?
Cllr John: No, I am not.
Graham Evans: Altogether Better is taking health and wellbeing within constituencies, within areas, and breaking down all the silos within the Health Service. Perhaps this is an example of an Altogether Better in terms of jobs and so on, and breaking down these silos. Perhaps, in some areas, not all, there is a silo mentality between Jobcentre Plus within local authorities and other public bodies. If we had an Altogether Better, "Let’s get people into work" type mentality, you could break down those possible silo mentalities. It means that you all can communicate better together.
Cllr John: I am a great fan of local authorities having greater responsibilities for delivery of services and ultimate responsibility for things because, as Sharon has already intimated, we deliver great efficiencies. As you know, local authorities and local government have delivered great efficiencies over the last three years of between 25% and 28% taken out of each of our budgets. Services have not collapsed or fallen over, and we are an example of how you make savings in the public sector, actually. The greater responsibility we have for other budgets and other delivery mechanisms, the greater savings we can deliver across the piece. I am a great fan of breaking down silos as well, because they lead to problems and delays in delivery, rather than speeding up delivery.
Cllr Taylor: We like to feel we can connect up things that have not been connected in the past, whether it is health or in terms of the complex families work I was talking about earlier. Local government is really showing that it can be part of breaking down silos to make sure that the needs are directed at the people who need the services and not around the silos that everybody sits in. In terms of budgeting, we can manage a process where the funding is directed where it is needed and bring together services in a way that has not happened before.
Also, local government uniquely provides that democratic accountability for services. If a work programme in an area has only delivered 60 jobs to 1,800 people who are involved in the programme, for me there is an element of democratic accountability in there that says we have not done that terribly well, so we maybe need to think again about how it is being done. Local government is happy to take that democratic accountability for how employability services are delivered, so it gives an extra edge to it. I agree with everything Peter says about breaking down silos. We are not going to deliver to people with very complex needs and get them back into sustainable work without organisations across the piece in the public, voluntary and private sector all working together on this project.
Q309 Chair: Can I just pick you up? Sharon, you said that you envisaged three elements of LSSF: core funding, per client funding and outcomes. Has that been agreed, or is that your wish list with regard to how it will work?
Cllr Taylor: I would have to say it is a wish list at the moment. As you know, at the moment we are working very closely on the LSSF with DWP. That is the way that the LGA is framing it at the moment; it is not finally agreed yet.
Q310 Chair: I will tell you what occurs to me sitting here listening to you. I know that you are a great enthusiast for local government; that is why you are here and you are obviously here to make the case for local government. If I were in central Government and I heard that local government can do this, that and other things, I would just say, "We’ll, just let local government get on with it" but there would not be any funding to go with it, because you are busy volunteering that your councils can do all of this stuff. Is there not a danger of being overly ambitious and actually countering what you are wanting? You obviously want the funding to follow the promise of delivering these services, but you might be being too enthusiastic-I was going to say "cutting off your nose to spite your face-so that central Government actually says, "Well, we’ll just leave it all to local government and they’ve got the funding there. They are doing it anyway; they can carry on doing it and we won’t fund it".
Cllr Taylor: Of course there is a danger of that, and we are ever-vigilant of new burdens being imposed on local government without the funding to go with it. There must be funding to support this, but we think we can save the public purse money by breaking down silos, by working together with partners and by delivering a much better solution at local level than can be done from a central level. That is what the whole LGA Rewiring campaign is about, really. It is saying that there are very significant savings. The Ernst & Young review of our community budgeting we have already done, even in the areas that they were looking at, identified savings of about £1.75 billion to the public purse. We think there is huge potential for saving here by delivering what is needed at local level, by having sustainable solutions, particularly in the employability area, not having people in and out of work constantly, and by tackling their other problems like health and mental health problems.
Chair: We will move on now. We have taken half our time and we are only past the first section.
Q311 Glenda Jackson: This is for Cllr John, but feel free to chip in. London Councils supports DWP’s prioritisation of employment support for claimants affected by the benefit cap. Do these claimants require a different approach from the standard JCP offer, in your experience, and how successful has that approach been to date in supporting those claimants?
Cllr John: Yes, I think so. There is a good example of Enfield working intensively. 1,000 households have been worked with by Enfield, and it moved 25% into work. Those households are often large families, they have not been in the process of actively seeking work and many do not speak enough English to get a job. There are some good examples there from Enfield as to an authority that has risen to the challenge. We do not have adequate data at the moment to say whether the focus on employment support for benefit cap claimants has been successful at a London-wide level or what interventions are working the best. I can give you the example of Enfield where something is potentially working, but I cannot give you a London-wide answer.
Q312 Glenda Jackson: Who introduced that? Were these ideas coming from Enfield and were they working with Jobcentre Plus? How did it come about?
Cllr John: My understanding is that is an Enfield-inspired initiative, working with Jobcentre Plus.
Q313 Glenda Jackson: To go back to complex families-and you touched on English as a second language-it was specific to that borough. Are there lessons you think that can be learnt from that, which can be touched around the edges so that it is a model for other boroughs?
Cllr John: It is too early for us as London Councils to say we can draw any particular lessons or say this is particularly the best practice, but it is a good example. There were 1,000 households being worked with and 25% moving into work. There must undoubtedly be lessons that come from that intensive level of work.
Q314 Glenda Jackson: In that situation, was there equal working between Jobcentre Plus and the local authority?
Cllr John: I do not have the answer to that, but I can find out for you.
Glenda Jackson: Can you get that?
Cllr John: Yes, of course.
Glenda Jackson: I think we would all be grateful for it.
Q315 Sheila Gilmore: Can I just ask on the back of that, very quickly: is that being evaluated in the light of perhaps other things we have heard, that just getting a job, if it is not sustained, will not necessarily resolve the problem because you go around in a circle? Is somebody evaluating that ongoing?
Cllr John: I do not know the answer to that, so I obviously will feed that back in to the Committee, because it is a specific example I have been given.
Q316 Chair: Can you identify the type of person who is affected by the benefit cap? I ask that question because, in Aberdeen, there are 34 households affected by the benefit cap. For almost all of them, it is because they are homeless and in temporary accommodation. It is not because they are large families and not because they are out of work, so it is not the kind of family that the tabloids like to portray. These are homeless people who still have to get their temporary accommodation paid for by the council under the homeless legislation, so there are no savings to the public purse. Is that just Aberdeen or is that the kind of people who are being affected by the benefit cap across the country?
Cllr Taylor: Can I refer to two pieces of work, one the LGA is doing and one it has done on that? The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion did a fairly extensive study for us of what the capacity was for welfare claimants to mitigate the impacts of welfare cuts, including the benefits cap. It showed us almost a north/south split in terms of claimants. About four out of five claimants will not be able to do so. In the north of the country, that is because of worklessness and a mismatch between skills and jobs available, sometimes in the north and sometimes in the south. In the south, it is because of the high cost of housing. We actually produced that information on an authority-by-authority basis, so people can go online on the LGA website and check what the position is for their own authority.
The other piece of work we are doing on benefit cap is that some authorities are moving clients out of London to avoid the benefit cap. At the moment, we do not know how that is impacting on other local authorities, so we have just commissioned a piece of work from the Finance Panel to have a look at that how that benefit cap might be impacting on the areas where they are moving to, to see whether they have the resources to pick up complex family needs, for example. We do not always know that those clients are moving out from areas where they are hitting the benefit cap. It is a particular issue for coastal areas, for example, but some of the areas in the Midlands and the north are being affected by this movement out. We do not know the extent of that yet, and that is why we have commissioned a study to have a look at it.
The anecdotal evidence is the issue is a mismatch between client skills and the work available. That is why the skills issue is really important here. Even the keenest people who are very keen to get back into work are struggling to develop the skills for the local labour force that they will need.
Cllr John: I have some figures. Across the four pilot boroughs with the benefit cap in London-I am just reminding myself what they are; I think they are Bromley, Lewisham, Haringey and Enfield-7,843 households had a cap applied and, of those, 98.2% had at least one child dependent, 89% had three or more children and 39% had five or more children. 53% of capped households lost more than £50 per week. It does not sound like the Aberdeen example is replicated here, because it is unlikely you are going to have homeless people effectively with so many children. It sounds like families.
Q317 Chair: So it is straightforward housing costs.
Cllr John: Yes.
Kathleen Caper: I will make a couple of quick comments on that. If we think about the overall make-up of the group who are affected by the benefit cap-some 40,000 households have been identified as likely to be affected-one third of those households are in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance. Only one third of them had been defined by the benefits system as able and available for work at this time. The rest of the households are on ESA or Income Support, so they had health issues or caring issues that prevent them from being able to work at this point in time. By virtue of that, they will have different employment support needs. The biggest issue for that group is going to be working with those people who are on ESA, who have potentially recently come off incapacity benefit and moved onto ESA, into the work-related activity group. They are going to need a very much higher level of support to engage with employment.
Q318 Glenda Jackson: Where do you envisage that support coming from?
Kathleen Caper: At the moment, it is difficult to say. Jobcentre is not set up to deliver the kind of support that is needed. Some of the support has been pushed out into the Work Programme, but whether people are able to avail themselves in the work programme of the kind of skills development that they need is a different matter; as is whether they are able to get the soft skill building that is needed. There is also the need to tackle employer discrimination against people who have been out of the workforce for a long period of time or may present with disabilities. There needs to be support for people who have fluctuating conditions, and that is their reason for being on Employment Support Allowance. That is being covered by neither the Work Programme nor Jobcentre Plus at this time.
Q319 Glenda Jackson: What about local authorities in that situation? Are you up to speed?
Cllr Taylor: This reflects back into the complex needs issue. Although there is support for complex families-in my own area, for example, we have 80 families on that programme-we could probably treble that and still have under-capacity in terms of achieving support for all of the clients that would need it.
Q320 Glenda Jackson: That is simply a matter of people who are expert in helping these complex families. Is it a question of not being able to afford to hire more people in?
Cllr Taylor: It is bringing together the resources from all the agencies, and all of the agencies having enough support available to give the intensive support that clients in that base actually need to help them to solve their issues, whether they are access to work issues, skills issues or whether they are underlying health issues that need to be resolved before they can effectively get back into sustainable employment.
Cllr John: I do not know if this is helpful; I have the Southwarkspecific benefit cap as well, which just demonstrates where people are living. There are 196 housing benefit claims currently capped in Southwark since August. 65 of those are council tenants, 16 are council tenants in temporary accommodation, 37 are housing association tenants and 78 are private tenants. There is quite a mix in terms of where people who have been affected by that cap are living.
Q321 Chair: But in the same way as I suspect Aberdeen is slightly abnormal, London compared with the rest of the country is abnormal.
Cllr John: Because of our housing costs, absolutely.
Chair: The housing costs on their own are unlikely in most parts of the country to put people through the benefits cap. That includes in Aberdeen, which is a high cost area as well, so obviously it is only the temporary accommodation that pushes them over that limit. It was not the response I was expecting when I asked the question, and that is why I have been asking lots of other people what their experience is. In areas of low housing cost, it could be temporary accommodation that is the one thing pushing people over. Underneath all of this, it is housing costs.
Cllr John: Yes. In Southwark, you have 65 council tenants, so one third of those who have been hit by the cap in our borough are council tenants who are going to be paying some of the lowest rent in London.
Chair: We will not go on about the housing because that is our next inquiry. Those questions are exactly why it is our next inquiry.
Q322 Glenda Jackson: I will ask that question when we get to it. This is essentially about Jobcentre Plus and local authorities working together. Has the co-location of local authority staff and Jobcentre Plus staff improved unemployment outcomes?
Cllr Taylor: Where co-location has occurred, it has been very successful. The issue is it is not occurring in enough places. Jobcentre Plus staff working very closely with local authorities we would certainly see as good practice. That is what has encouraged us to think more widely about how this very close partnership working should go forward.
Q323 Glenda Jackson: What are local authorities bringing to the table then? Jobcentre Plus has been there for decades, so what is the element that local authorities are bringing to the table that is having a positive difference?
Cllr Taylor: It is bringing that wide range of contact. Firstly, it is our responsibility for economic development overall. We are looking at what our local area is, where its economy is moving and how we are trying to build that up. There is not a local authority leader in the country who is not very exercised at the moment in thinking about how to grow and strengthen the economy in their local area. That will bring with it the contact with Local Enterprise Partnerships. We are looking with them at the development of skills, where the infrastructure investment needs to go. Then we can start to look ahead, work on the skills programme that will match into that growing economy in our local areas. We can then work with JCP to deliver that level of skills through the education system, through individual training, maybe looking at outside training providers as well, and working with the private sector on their training programmes, apprenticeships, work experience programmes and so on to make sure that we have a workforce that is better skilled to meet the local needs. That is the perfect partnership. That is our vision of how it might work.
Q324 Glenda Jackson: Where does local business sit in all this? Is your experience of local employers better than Jobcentre Plus’s knowledge? This is one of Graham’s big things: that Jobcentre Pluses do not hold breakfasts for businesses. Is there that linkage there?
Cllr Taylor: The problem is it is patchy around the country. In some places, it works really well; in some places, Jobcentre Plus is really engaged with the local authority input. Yesterday morning, I had a business summit; Jobcentre Plus was there, my local businesses were there and the local FE college was there. That does not work everywhere around the country, and the better that works, the more likely we are to be delivering the whole agenda.
Q325 Glenda Jackson: Setting aside something you have already established, that there is a basic difference between urban and rural as far as all these programmes are concerned, have you any idea of why it is patchy across the country? Is it unwillingness from local authorities or JCP? Is it simply that the potential for creating a thriving future economy is not there?
Cllr Taylor: We have a feeling that the way performance in Jobcentre Plus has been driven by this kind of output level measurement of what they are doing has not helped in terms of pushing forward the partnership agenda. That is changing and moving. I do not want to over-exaggerate this, but the more we can get that link in with the overall economic picture, the better it will be and the better it will be in terms of developing sustainable employment.
Q326 Glenda Jackson: Do you afford the models that are working to both other local authorities and other Jobcentre Plus areas?
Cllr Taylor: Yes, we do. One of the LGA’s key roles is to share that good practice around the country. In some cases, people are finding it quite hard work to make the contact. I think Peter has explained: we can only get partners to the table if they come to the table willingly. There is no compulsion on Jobcentre Plus managers to come and sit on an economic taskforce.
Q327 Glenda Jackson: Do you think there should be?
Cllr Taylor: I think DWP is moving that way; it is encouraging it and that is where we would want it to be at the moment. Compulsion is never a good thing-
Glenda Jackson: No, quite.
Cllr Taylor: -because people do not normally do it willingly. The encouragement to do that and seeing the benefits of it is the other thing. Local government has to demonstrate that there are demonstrable benefits for us working together on this agenda. That is our role, as well.
Cllr John: I think Jobcentre Plus should be involved at a political level, understanding what the local political leadership wants to achieve. I have never had a conversation with someone from JCP in Southwark, which I just think is kind of shocking.
Q328 Glenda Jackson: Have you invited them?
Cllr John: Exactly-it goes two ways. I have not arranged a meeting and they have not asked to speak to me. We are a borough that has huge opportunities in terms of construction, growth and all the jobs that flow from that. It would be good to have a conversation with them about it. At the London-wide level, there is better connection and Jobcentre Plus is represented on the London Enterprise Partnership, so there is that regional overview, but at borough level there is not that connection. I think that is disappointing and there should be more of a connection.
Cllr Taylor: We can also deliver the accountability for Jobcentre Plus to our residents and employers. As I said before, we have the democratic accountability locally and, with a greater emphasis on contact with us, they would be more accountable to our local employers and public for whether they are delivering against the skills agenda, whether they are feeding through people into the jobs market with the kinds of skills that people need. That democratic accountability is vital in helping move this forward.
Kathleen Caper: It is interesting that Sharon touched on the outcomes issue there. The focus on off-flows in Jobcentre Plus does mean that there is not a great deal of matching of claimants to jobs in particular. When we start looking at that adviser connection with the claimant, the adviser’s role is very much about ensuring and encouraging behaviours in the claimant that will help them to seek work. It is not about being the kind of employment adviser that matches them to a particular job. There is a disconnect there.
I am not saying that should be the role of Jobcentre Plus. It is really important to encourage people to the self-sufficiency that you see around being able to build the skills to find work themselves, to address training needs and so forth, but there is a disconnection between the local labour market and what the needs are of claimants in that area. Over time, as welfare changes come in, there is an opportunity for culture change within Jobcentre Plus and the way services are delivered to individual claimants. It should be far more holistic and far more engaged around understanding what the local labour market is, understanding what the skills gaps are, understanding what the skills gap is for that individual and being able to signpost them appropriately to services in their community to ensure that they will be able to build sustainable work outcomes for themselves over time.
Q329 Glenda Jackson: There is a paradox in the outcomes, inasmuch as it seems to me there is a pressure not to get people into work, but to get them off benefits. They are not the same thing.
Kathleen Caper: They are not the same thing, and that is shown by the lack of nuance in the off-flow measure. The off-flow measure can include people who simply fall out of the system; it can include people who go into work; it can also include people who have been sanctioned or had a disallowance for a compliance failure. Some of those are good outcomes and some of those are negative outcomes. We need a greater understanding of what happens to people over time as they leave the benefits system. That will help us to understand what works and what does not.
Chair: As we have now strayed into the questions we had on local partnership working and employment services, I think we will carry on with this, then we will go back to those other things.
Q330 Sheila Gilmore: This is possibly predominantly for Sharon in terms of the Local Government Association. One of the things that you have called for is sharing of JCP and Work Programme data with local authorities. What type of information are you looking for and how would you be using it?
Cllr Taylor: We have had problems with data sharing. We struggle to understand that, because obviously councils deal with very secure data on benefits anyway. It would very much help us, particularly for example with young people, for Jobcentre Plus to share that data with us. We have consistently struggled to get data on these issues. We are working with DWP to try and crack that and work out what the obstruction is in terms of dealing with data sharing. We just have not quite got through yet.
Q331 Sheila Gilmore: Assuming, then, you could get that information, which would tell you, let’s say, how many 18-to-25-year-old claimants were in a council area, what are councils looking to do with that?
Cllr Taylor: It is both understanding what kind of experience those young people have had in the past and looking at whether they are linking in with other issues that may be present in their families so that we can help with that. The more information we have about their jobs background and their skills training background that Jobcentre Plus holds and we do not, the better we can link that in with other issues that we may be working with their families on.
Q332 Sheila Gilmore: Do you see yourself almost being able to go out actively towards the young people in that position? Is it only to assist in doing work that is already ongoing with their families?
Cllr Taylor: It is about linking their worklessness, the issues that they have around job search and supporting them with that, with the other issues that they may be facing in their families. We will have one set of data; Jobcentre Plus has another. If we can link the two together, that is a far more powerful base of intelligence around that family that we can then use to support that young person or any person back into the work, training or support that they need-which may be health support-to help them to deal with the issues that they are facing. The more data we can link together, the more likely we are to be able to provide a programme that works for that person.
Q333 Sheila Gilmore: Once you have the data, say, for instance, the young person is already involved in something like the Work Programme. Several of us have had examples of people who appear to have been told that, because they are on the Work Programme, they are not eligible for taking part in courses that the local authority might be offering. The sharing of data is not going to get you around that issue, is it?
Cllr Taylor: No. We have developed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department for Education. The paperwork is in place, but it is not working on the ground yet and we need to make sure that the agreements we have are actually working on the ground. It is about quality of data as well as just straightforward data sharing. As you say, that does not get around the quality of the data. If JCP give us the name of an individual, but not their benefit type or their contact details, that is really essential to us. For example, young people in rented accommodation move around very quickly. JCP will have the information and that can help us to target the individual quickly and with the right support. If we can share the information, we can better support people who may have very transient or chaotic lifestyles. It is only by maximising the use of the data we have and improving the quality of it, which is vital, that we will be able to provide that better package of support.
Q334 Debbie Abrahams: Can I just follow up on that? It did not really get to the nub of what Sheila was asking, which I think links back to what Kathleen was saying about the nuanced approach. Currently, because of the way that off-flows are the focus of what JCP does, ensuring the right training for the individual, but also that that matches the labour market, is not happening. You said there is a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department for Education, but you did not really get to the point that this will address the issues that we are finding-i.e. people are not getting the training courses that they need for sustained, long-term employment.
Cllr Taylor: That is right. For young people who may be moving constantly and who may have chaotic lifestyles, if we can keep tracking them, making sure we know where they are and what they are doing and helping them deal with that, we can better support them. We need the JCP data to do that: they will be in and out of there because they have to sign on. We do not have that information at the moment, and we are finding out that the agreements we have, which could have a very positive effect on the ground, are not yet fully in place.
Q335 Debbie Abrahams: We did the field visit to the pathfinders and so on. I sat in with an adviser interviewing somebody who did not have a chaotic lifestyle, but he was being offered a bog-standard training course, to which he said, "Yes, okay. I’ll go along with it". I think he will go along with that training; he will put in for a few months and it will not be the right thing for him; it will not be the right thing for the local economy. It is not necessarily people with chaotic lifestyles that we are talking about.
Cllr Taylor: No, of course; not everybody has a chaotic lifestyle. If we are to personally tailor the package of support we give to the skills someone already has-and they usually have some-and what the local labour market needs are, and help them to go through a process that gives them better skills so they are more likely to get sustainable employment in the local labour market, we need all the data about them. It is not just tracking people with chaotic lifestyles; it is about understanding where they are coming from in their job experience. They may have developed a bit of experience that may be relevant to something that is greatly needed in the labour market, and we can help work with local employers and training providers to gently push them in the right direction to get the training they need.
There is another example I want to give. It will not be right for everybody to go into employment. I will give you an example of a young man I met, who had worked as a window cleaner. His boss had decided to emigrate and he had gone off to Australia. This young man wanted to carry on with the window cleaning business, but he could not get the support and could not afford to buy a van and a ladder. We have all the enterprise support in place to help him set that business up and work out a business plan. We have low-cost accommodation that people use. If we had had the data from JCP that that is what he wanted to do, we could have helped him into the enterprise support that we have so that he could set his own business up. There is funding available for that, but things do not always match up. The more data we have about people and what their aims and ambitions are, the more we can help them to get into something that will be right for them.
Q336 Graham Evans: Surely that is an example of your picking up the phone to the local Jobcentre Plus, saying, "We have something here for you. Can we have a one-to-one or a telephone conference" and connecting the two together.
Cllr Taylor: Yes, and most Local Authorities are working on that all the time, but the data to do that is helpful as well. If we can have better data sharing, that would help that process as well. Of course, you are absolutely right; we are in constant contact with JCP, letting them know what is available. Having the data about individuals means that we are better able to support them through that process too.
Q337 Sheila Gilmore: One of the critical transitions where local authorities are really perhaps in a unique position is school leaving. Every study that has ever been done will say that, if people drift at that stage, it becomes increasingly difficult. When you move from nursery to primary school and from primary school to high school, for example, there are all sorts of transitional arrangements in place and all the rest of it. Are local authorities doing that, for example, with jobcentres for young people who are not immediately going into further education? It is an important transitional moment.
Cllr Taylor: Yes, and we could get into a discussion about the whole area of career support. That has been considerably weak in terms of what we need to help guide young people from that very important transition point. It is fine for the academic achievers who are going to follow a further education route, but it is not necessarily so strong for other people who are going straight into the jobs market. I do think there is a huge role for local government and our partners to move that forward. It is particularly relevant for looked-after children, who very often do not achieve so well in terms of exam results and will need quite considerable support, and do not have other support mechanisms. Certainly, local authorities around the country are thinking about how we support those looked-after children when they get to the end of their education.
Q338 Chair: Surely that is a responsibility for the local authority to track these people, because they are not in the benefits system when they are 16. It is not JCP’s role because they do not engage with them. My understanding is very few, if any, local authorities actually track school leavers and, indeed, college leavers. That would give you the data. You should have that data, rather than depending on getting data two years down the line from JCP when they appear there.
Cllr Taylor: We clearly need to do both. To support young people properly, we would want to do both of those things: track them from school leavers onward, and then have proper data sharing when they get to 18 so that we keep following that process through and do everything we can to get those young people into sustainable employment. It is well documented that, if they are out of work between 16 and their early 20s, their life chances are greatly undermined in terms of future employment. We all need to do all we can to make sure we are helping them over that transition phase from schooling to employment.
Q339 Chair: What are you doing? You said you need to do it, but what are local authorities doing.
Cllr John: We do try to track post-16 year olds, and we are rightly criticised if we have a significant number of not-knowns within that NEET category. Ideally, we want to see 16-year-olds go on into apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship, or onto sixth form or college, or into work. That is what, in an ideal world, we would like to see happen. The reality of the situation is we do not have complete control and cannot pull all the levers to make sure that happens.
Q340 Chair: I suppose it will be easier once the education leaving age goes up to 18.
Cllr John: Yes, exactly.
Glenda Jackson: It will simply delay the pain.
Cllr Taylor: There are a number of local authorities setting up specific programmes. Plymouth, for example, has this 1,000 Club jobs programme that it has set up. That is not just about jobs; it is about apprenticeships, training programmes and work experience placements. They are not specifically targeted at young people, but young people are often the beneficiaries of those types of programmes. Tracking every 16-year-old that comes out of school is something I am not going to pretend we have cracked yet. We have not, and it is something local government needs to look at and JCP needs to look at. We cannot do that without our partners. We need to work with partners to do that.
Q341 Graham Evans: You mentioned the City Deals or the Local Enterprise Partnerships offer opportunities to establish greater local accountability in employment services. Most of your members are on LEPs; it is an opportunity for you to analyse the local job market, the skills shortages, what current job opportunities and future job opportunities are. Rather than waiting for the DWP to tell you what you can do, do you see an opportunity for your members to say to DWP, "Actually, we have worked with business leaders on the LEP. We know our patch. We know that our members can deliver holistic care working with all the partners"? Do you see that as an opportunity? If you do, how many of your members are grabbing that with both hands?
Cllr Taylor: There are big opportunities here. You will be aware that the picture with LEPs is different around the country. The very important thing about this is whether it is LEPs, City Deals or Employment and Skills Partnerships, they can look at the local area, what is needed locally and make a better job of this than something that is just looking down from the central point and saying, "This is what we think we are going to need" centrally. The LEP is focusing on the employment clusters in my area around science, technology, engineering, maths and the media industry-we have a big film industry-and then we bring in education and the employability skills packages that are being developed to feed directly into those industries. That is a huge opportunity for us, and although local government representation on LEPs is different in different places, the members we have that are engaged in LEPs are pushing that agenda forward about linking these things up together. That goes right to the heart of what we see as the big opportunity here.
Q342 Graham Evans: Do you see the LEP as an opportunity for your members?
Cllr Taylor: Yes, definitely.
Cllr John: I absolutely agree with that. That is absolutely right. You find interesting things out if you sit on the LEP. I am sure you are all aware, but I did not know that there are 1.2 million people working in construction in the UK at the moment, of whom 518,000 are due to retire by 2020. That is an amazing statistic, but also highlights the need for us to be training people to get into construction in all its forms. The LEP in London is certainly concentrating on responding to the local labour market. Birmingham has a very good example of how a LEP works, with some very clear outcomes that they have identified, and everything they do is focused on those outcomes. LEPs are the perfect vehicle to do the work you are talking about.
Graham Evans: We have talked about best practice, Chairman. The underlying theme here is that you can always focus on the negatives and the things that are not working. In my experience, it is leadership and management of your various organisations; once people get together and are talking together, if you have best practice-what works, what the best-working councils are and what the best LEPs are-it acts as a beacon that others can learn from.
Q343 Glenda Jackson: London Councils report that all the London boroughs have established local emergency welfare schemes, because of the localisation of elements of the discretionary social fund, but that those schemes vary significantly. Does that mean that financial assistance for residents facing financial hardship is subject to a postcode lottery rather than an assessment of real need?
Cllr John: There is a clear differential between how local authorities are approaching this. I know for instance, in Southwark, we have a system whereby applicants apply on the telephone. In Lambeth and Lewisham, applicants have to apply online. As a consequence, Southwark has paid a lot more out from its hardship fund than either Lambeth or Lewisham has. If you want to call it a postcode lottery you can, but there are clear differentials in the way in which these funds are operating.
Q344 Glenda Jackson: Is that deliberate, and is it based on the fact that the individual council simply does not have enough money in the bank?
Cllr John: Local councils adopt the scheme that they think is going to work best for their residents with the resources they have.
Q345 Glenda Jackson: That does not make any sense. It cannot be the best if the resident does not actually get the money.
Cllr John: It is going to depend on what resources they have to give out.
Q346 Glenda Jackson: That is just what I have said. People have to go through a fairly horrendous process and be in a horrendous situation to apply for what people still persist in calling social funding-even though we know that has gone; it is not ringfenced and all that kind of thing. These are people in severe financial need. There must be a structure which all local authorities, I would have thought, would have devised for themselves of how they prove that hardship, and then, if the applicant meets that kind of benchmark, the money is there, limited though it is.
Cllr John: I think the criteria are common, certainly across the three boroughs I have just talked about. It is the mode of application that is different, and that could lead to differential outcomes.
Q347 Glenda Jackson: Do you think that is a deliberate choice?
Cllr John: Yes, it is a choice that has been made. In Southwark, we decided to make it easier, we thought, by allowing people to apply on the phone.
Cllr Taylor: My serious concern about this is that making the hurdles higher to jump over for discretionary social funding is putting huge pressure on our voluntary sector partners. Instead of doing that, people are going to payday lenders and very high cost lenders like BrightHouse and others to solve whatever the immediate crisis problem is. In the longer term, that is not going to do any of us any good, because if their debt problems pile up, it puts great pressure on organisations like CAB. Although I understand the need to take cost out of the system, if you push the bar up too high, you are going to make the problem worse, not better, in the long term, and sometimes the triage system is quite difficult.
There are some examples of very good practice, like linking in with credit unions, for example. Where there is a link built in with a credit union, that encourages people to get in touch with the credit union. They then understand how it works and they get the support they need at the appropriate time. One of the things the LGA needs to do is spread that good practice more widely so that we are helping people to link in with low cost lenders, not pushing them towards high cost lenders-payday loan companies and so on. I do not know if CAB has any comments on that, but certainly, in some instances, it is making people go to those very high cost lenders, and I am worried about that.
Q348 Glenda Jackson: Have you seen an increase in applications for-let us call it-the hardship fund money? Are figures kept on that, as far as local authorities are concerned?
Cllr Taylor: We will have figures, and we will try and provide some for the Committee if that would be helpful.
Glenda Jackson: It would be.
Cllr Taylor: We will get some figures from around the country of whether applications are going up or down. With the change in access route to this, there has been a transition phase, because people have not always widely understood that there has been a change. They have gone to apply for an emergency loan, as it used to be called, and then found there is a very different process. They have sometimes struggled to get through that process. We will get some figures for you about what the applications are.
Q349 Graham Evans: Can you also segment them into the reasons for the emergency? As well as saying whether they have gone up or down, what are the categories?
Cllr Taylor: Sure.
Glenda Jackson: No money.
Kathleen Caper: Access is something that Citizens Advice is very much seeing as being an issue in terms of local emergency welfare assistance. For example, we know in Tameside, which is one of the pathfinder areas, the bureau there has in the last quarter had 1,500 enquiries from people who require some support to access the local system because it is a purely online system. That gives us an inkling of the level of support people will need going forward around online systems. You are going to get differential results as an effect of the access route that people have to these funds.
Q350 Glenda Jackson: Could you link back from the differential routes to the variance in the local authorities’ budgets? There must be some consideration, even though it is not ring-fenced money any more, that local authorities think, "We’ve got to have this kind of emergency fund for somebody". Is there a link between that?
Cllr Taylor: We will ask that question when we collect the data.
Glenda Jackson: That would be useful.
Kathleen Caper: It is going to be very complex as well, because it will be not only the access channels, but also the emphases on different criteria in different areas. For example, whilst we know the greatest users of the old crisis loans system were young men under 35, anecdotal evidence at this stage-it is still very early days-for local emergency assistance seems to indicate that, if there are not dependent children or vulnerable people in the household, then they are not meeting the eligibility criteria for some local schemes.
Q351 Glenda Jackson: Those are the high hurdles that Cllr Taylor referred to. Thanks very much. In what circumstances should claimants be referred to the local authorities for their emergency welfare schemes rather than applying for short-term benefits advances or budgeting loans through JCP? Is the guidance on this clear enough?
Cllr Taylor: One of the issues with this is that what was previously an emergency system now has a slower process of triage. How slow depends on the way the local authority does it. The whole point of an emergency loan is it is there to deal with an emergency. It should be dealing with that quickly. We are not sure yet whether, in every case, the system is quick enough to deal with that very dire emergency that somebody might be facing.
There may be evidence from food banks, for example. This is anecdotal evidence, but we do have people coming into food banks who do not have any cooking facilities, because they have not been able to replace the cooker, and you end up running around trying to find them stuff they can eat that they are not going to have to cook. We do not have enough evidence to give you at the moment around whether the system is working quickly enough to deal with those very dire emergencies, which it should be for, that need resolving instantly: the lady with four children under five who has no washing machine, for example. They should be dealt with as quickly as possible.
Cllr John: The London experience is that JCP staff are referring clients to local welfare provision without having regard to the criteria for that. Clients are ending up being bounced from the JCP to us and back again, because they are not being informed about what is still available through the JCP route, the advances and the fund that you referred to in your question. JCP is knocking people on to us.
Q352 Glenda Jackson: It goes back to the point about the delay for an emergency that needs to be met.
Kathleen Caper: Citizens Advice would very much echo Peter’s experience there. Whilst we see some evidence of inappropriate referrals to the local emergency support, it is not clear if it is widespread. However, we are very likely to see people coming to us for assistance and signposting when JCP has not given them enough information about the provision that it has. It may be more appropriate for them to have applied for the equivalent of an interim payment or a hardship payment, but they are not aware of these and they are coming to a Citizens Advice Bureau and then being referred back for a hardship payment.
Q353 Graham Evans: Do you then tell Jobcentre Plus that that is inappropriate so they know they have got it wrong or made a mistake?
Kathleen Caper: As with my local authority colleagues, there will be different engagement with different bureaux and job centres around the country. Where there is a good feedback loop with district managers and so forth, or local JCP managers themselves, then that information is definitely fed back, but there is not always a good relationship.
Q354 Chair: Is that lack of training or lack of knowledge of the professional advisers at JCP that they are misdirecting people and do not know that things have changed, or they do not know what the new criteria are?
Kathleen Caper: It may well be that. Jobcentre advisers are as easily affected by media influence as the rest of us about understanding what provision is available. It does appear to be a lack of information for them to understand about what the right referral would be.
Graham Evans: That is training of management, Chair. It is a leadership issue.
Q355 Glenda Jackson: Have you raised any of these issues with DWP?
Cllr Taylor: This is more evidence of the need to join things up better. From the LGA’s point of view, we have not raised it yet, because we do not have enough evidence to suggest whether it is working or not. We are gathering that evidence as we move forward with this. Certainly, it is a topic we need to work through when we have clearer evidence, and go to DWP to have discussions with them about how it is working.
Kathleen Caper: We are in fairly constant contact with DWP and feeding back what we see, but it is a very long line between the civil servant and the JCP front line.
Graham Evans: That is why we need local working together, so you do not need to go all the way to DWP to sort a problem out locally; you pick up the phone and speak to the Jobcentre Plus manager and sort it.
Q356 Nigel Mills: We can move seamlessly on from where we have just been to conditionality and sanctioning. Has the CAB seen an increase in the number of claimants in severe financial hardship seeking your advice since the sanctions regimes were toughened about a year ago now?
Kathleen Caper: The short answer to that is yes. In the six-month period from October last year to March this year, we saw an increase in advice queries-people coming to the bureaux and asking for assistance-around sanctions of some 35% compared to the previous year. This did coincide quite closely with the change to the JSA sanctions regime that took place in October last year, so, as you say, a year ago. It is difficult at this stage for us to understand what that increase means. It could mean a number of things. We suspect it is a mixture of a greater number of individuals being sanctioned, but we also think that it is because the minimum sanction for Jobseeker’s Allowance is now four weeks instead of one week, and that is pushing people into extreme hardship.
Whereas, when people had a one-week sanction, there was a possibility that they could ride that out with what was in the back of the cupboard and borrowing from friends and family, that is exhausted pretty quickly. It does not hold people over for a four week period. As you may know, we are certainly seeing a number of bureaux operate as a gateway service or a referral service to food banks in their area. We know that somewhere around one in five people coming to us asking for food back assistance or a food bank referral are doing so because they have received a sanction to their benefits and do not have enough money for food as a result.
Q357 Nigel Mills: In what proportion of sanction cases that you see do you think the sanctions have been inappropriately applied or are not consistent with the rules, at least?
Kathleen Caper: It is a very difficult thing to quantify, and our response to that would have to be anecdotal, based on the cases that we see. Certainly, we know that, for a large number of the people we see who come to us with problems, the requirement that was imposed on the individual was something that they were unable to meet due to a lack of skills, a lack of access in their area or that it is simply an inappropriate requirement placed on them. When they failed to meet that requirement, a sanction has been imposed. In terms of the rules about sanctions, they are being followed, but to our way of thinking a sensitive adviser would look at the situation more carefully and understand that the need for support was indicated, and not a sanction, in that instance.
Q358 Nigel Mills: So if they had shown some more flexibility or discretion through the process.
Kathleen Caper: Yes, and also if they were empowered to do that, and to ensure that people could be referred to training courses if they do not have the IT skills to apply for a job online, for example.
Q359 Debbie Abrahams: Can I just come in on the unemployment point? We have some evidence that, even when people are complying with what is required of them, sanctions are still being applied. Former witnesses have indicated that, although there are not any formal targets around sanctioning, the Department has introduced expectations around sanctioning that seem to support what has been said. Do you have evidence around that?
Kathleen Caper: The way I would respond to that is that, certainly, one of the things we are seeing is people being sanctioned for quite small failures. For example, they were told to apply for 12 jobs in a week and they applied for 10 or 11. A bit of discretion there on the adviser side would be welcome. It seems like a very harsh penalty to lose your benefits for four weeks for not applying for one more job, for example. In terms of understanding targets, I think we need to come back to off-flow data and the lack of nuance in off-flow data. There will be an expectation on JCP, for JSA claimants, that they would have off-flows at 90% of the caseload for JSA over a period of time, but it does not specify what that off-flow should be made up of. Whilst we would expect that off-flow to be made up of people moving into employment, if that is not achievable because of the effect of the local labour market, the state of the economy and so on, then another way of achieving that is through sanctions and disallowances.
Q360 Debbie Abrahams: We have evidence that people have complied, but they have still been sanctioned. We have evidence that they have turned up at the right time, they have done what has been requested, but they have still been sanctioned.
Kathleen Caper: Some of the stuff we see is similar to that, and it is very close to the line. That is where discretion is certainly an issue. There is one case of a gentleman recently who was on the Work Programme, and so when he had been signing on during that period he had not needed to provide evidence of his job search. He had a sign-on at the end of that process with the Work Programme and he did not bring his evidence with him. However, he had applied for more than 10 jobs in that week. He had a further appointment at JCP in the afternoon and brought his evidence in then, but because he did not supply it two hours earlier at his sign-on, he was sanctioned. It is that kind of lack of flexibility we certainly see time and again.
Q361 Nigel Mills: That example just sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Presumably we want to get to a situation where the claimant understands what they need to do to remain entitled to their benefits. That should be set out clearly in a claimant commitment agreement or something, and then fairly applied. Is that something you think JCP is operating effectively? Is that something that is getting better from what you see, or is there still a long way to go?
Kathleen Caper: I do not think it is operating effectively at the moment. We are keeping a very close eye on the roll-out of the claimant commitment, which has just started. That is something we have worked very closely with DWP on, because we know that, for a lot of the people that we see coming into bureaux who have problems with sanctions, it is a problem of not understanding their requirements. The claimant commitment should be a step in the direction of improving that. A lot of the emphasis, though, needs to be on the relationship between the adviser and the claimant. It is one thing to have a document setting out very clearly what your requirements are and what the consequences of not meeting those requirements are, but much better engagement and much better compliance will be achieved when that is explained really thoroughly to a claimant, and the time for an adviser to do that should be freed up to allow them the space to develop their relationship to enable them to have a proper discussion with that person about what the requirements are, and their ability to meet those requirements.
Q362 Sheila Gilmore: You said you had done some work on the claimant commitment with DWP. To what extent is it time? We have heard an awful lot about 35 hours. How much is it a specified number of jobs? We have all had experience of people who say that they applied for nine jobs and it should have been 10, or whatever. That has been a very fixed point: "You’ve got to apply for 10 jobs" or "You’ve got to apply for 15 jobs". In terms of the claimant commitment, is that going to be similar or is it going to relate to hours? If so, how is it going to be expressed? How is it going to be shown? How is a claimant to demonstrate they have spent 35 hours on job seeking?
Kathleen Caper: It is probably a better question for DWP and JCP than for me at this stage. However, the claimant commitment will be coming in two parts. It will be the commitment itself, which is the legal requirement around the jobseeker’s agreement side of it, and the "my work plan" section of it, which is the more detailed part of it where the claimant will have greater ownership of what they intend to do over the course of a week. There will still be a very strong emphasis on applying for a certain number of jobs and, as you say has come up, spending a certain number of hours on job search. My understanding of that is that some of those activities can be monitored through Universal Jobmatch.
Q363 Chair: Just before we leave sanctions, is this going to get more difficult with Universal Credit? At the moment, people are sanctioned only on their workrelated benefits, so it is predominantly JSA, although it might be ESA. It is not their housing costs; it is not the money they get for their children. In Universal Credit, it will be one single payment. Do you have any ideas or have you had any discussions about how that is going to work?
Kathleen Caper: It will still be the standard allowance element that will be sanctioned, so, at current rates, approximately £10 per day will be sanctioned. However, bearing in mind that some people will have lower entitlements than that, they will still be sanctioned at what the going rate is. However, there is a real opportunity here to solve a problem we have seen constantly throughout the sanctioning system where, whilst people’s housing benefit is not sanctioned, there is an inadvertent knock-on effect when people receive a sanction and an automatic message is sent to the local authority to say this person is no longer on benefits, and their housing benefit is stopped. People frequently do not understand that their housing benefit has not been sanctioned and that they need to contact the local authority immediately and make a nil income claim for housing benefit. Under Universal Credit, that knock-on effect should not happen, but we still have a little while to go yet.
Q364 Chair: Is it right that, if someone is sanctioned, they do not have access to the discretionary emergency welfare scheme?
Kathleen Caper: My understanding is that the eligibility criteria of the majority of local authorities do exclude people whose emergency arises from situations they could have prevented themselves. Receiving a benefit sanction is counted as one of those situations.
Q365 Chair: What advice does CAB give to them in those circumstances?
Kathleen Caper: Frequently, people come to us asking for a referral to a food bank. I know certainly, over the last few months, one in five requests for a referral to a food bank have been as a result of receiving a sanction. The next step is looking at whether there is an opportunity for them to apply for a hardship payment, bearing in mind, though, that if it is not a vulnerable household, there is a two-week wait before they are allowed to apply for them. It is quite often where Citizens Advice Bureau is the one who is making those connections for people, rather than it being made clear to them when they receive a sanction that, "These are your options now".
Q366 Chair: Ministers have said that food banks are being used because they exist. Do you see a direct correlation between the increased use of sanctions and conditionality, and the increased use of food banks? Trussell Trust is reporting today that, between April and September of this year, they had more referrals than in the whole of 2012.
Kathleen Caper: The main driver of that, certainly around sanctions, has been the change from the one-week sanction to the four-week sanction. Hopefully, today the statistics on sanctions should come out from the DWP, if they have been able to sort out their quality assurance issues around sanctions, to help us understand if there has been an increase in the number of individuals being sanctioned. I expect that there will be, but that four-week minimum sanction is particularly harsh.
Q367 Chair: Are local authorities doing anything in their areas to coordinate the food banks so that the whole system is not being abused at all?
Cllr Taylor: Most food banks are run by independent charitable organisations and not by local authorities. While local authorities may have a connection with the food bank in terms of knowing that it is there and potentially councils using community budgets and so on to support them, they are mostly run independently. There is another problem as well that I just wanted to mention while we are talking about that, which is the delay in dealing with ESA appeals. People may be sanctioned while their ESA appeal goes through. I have one example of one that took seven months, and the individual was sanctioned for the entire seven months while he was waiting for the appeal to go through. That is causing pressure there as well. There are issues, and it is not just JSA; it is ESA as well.
Q368 Graham Evans: Does the panel agree with sanctions?
Kathleen Caper: Citizens Advice agrees with conditionality, in that everybody has responsibilities in their engagements with DWP. I have responsibilities in my job that I need to meet and I also believe that people have responsibilities in their engagement with the benefits system. I think we need to look at what other opportunities than financial punishments could be used to help people engage better with the system. I think financial penalties are counter-productive and I do not think they bring people closer to compliance. They push them away from it.
Q369 Debbie Abrahams: The final question from me was about claimant count in relation to sanction levels. If it has increased by 35%, the implications in terms of the claimant count or the reduction in the claimant count as a result of that are huge. How are we monitoring that or how can we get data that will enable us to identify the relationship between sanctioning, the reduction in claimant count and the unemployment figures that are published?
Kathleen Caper: It is very complex, and probably someone from ONS could help me out a bit with that one. One of the things that we certainly look towards is the amount of money that has been withheld from claimants over a period of time. The most recent figures that I am aware of, and I am speaking quite roughly, are that something like £45 million was withheld from JSA claimants in 20122013, but, in the first six months of 20132014-April to October-£60 million was withheld. If you extend that over the year, you are looking at £120 million compared to £40 million the year before. That is a particularly interesting avenue for us to go down to understand how much is being withheld. Matching that against how many people have actually been sanctioned gives us a strong indicator of the impact of those sanctions.
Q370 Graham Evans: Councillors, do you agree with sanctions?
Cllr Taylor: I would rather we looked at other ways of dealing with it. I do think people have a responsibility here. I would like to see JCP staff with far greater discretion, because this goes to the question of whether JCP is about delivering or not delivering benefits, as the case may be, or whether it is about employment support. Clearly, our view is that it is both. If JCP staff have greater discretion to support the individual, and if local government got involved in this as well, we could tackle other needs that they have and get them back into work.
The most horrendous example I saw of this was a young man who, even though the employer kindly provided CCTV evidence that he had been at an interview, because the receptionist was not there when he got there and he had not signed the signingin sheet, had his benefits sanctioned. That is clearly nonsense. We had evidence; CAB got the evidence from the CCTV cameras that he had been to the interview, but he was still sanctioned because he had not signed the signingin sheet. The JCP staff having discretion there could have prevented him from being sanctioned. The sanctioning just stacks up other problems. I agree with what CAB has said; it pushes people away from where we want them to be, which is receiving strong employment support and help to deal with their other issues that are the barrier between them and employment, and actually getting into employment. Greater working around a partnership framework and more discretion for JCP staff would help that process.
Q371 Nigel Mills: The questions I want to ask, as with all of this inquiry, are trying to work out what we think the future of Jobcentre Plus or its role should be. I think you just touched on this. We have outside providers doing back-to-work support and all manner of other support; I think you are suggesting that there are more roles for councils to play. Should Jobcentre Plus just become a benefit processing centre for DWP, and we leave all the other stuff to other people, or do you think actually what we currently have is about the best way of doing it?
Cllr Taylor: No, I do not think what we currently have is the best way of doing it, because there are clearly big gaps there. We think that, by working in partnership with local authorities and our networks, we could do a better role in terms of the employment support side of this, and probably a better role in terms of the discretionary element around the benefits side of it as well. In local government, we have a very clear vision that this can be done better and save the public purse money, which is important in all of this. It is both working from the national treasury side in terms of saving money, and also providing a better service locally for clients and employers in the local economy, which is really vitally important to us. We see those things working together, and I think there is a role for both. There is definitely still a role there for Jobcentre Plus, although your earlier question was an interesting one and we will give that some thought.
Co-location has been successful, so perhaps that is another way forward, and I think this is an area for the kind of real big thinking around community budgeting that we have been advocating from the LGA. If we were starting with a blank piece of paper on this, how would we design a system that meets the needs of clients, the local economy and prevents the increasing cost of welfare benefits?
Q372 Nigel Mills: Peter, you seemed to say earlier that you did not like the silos.
Cllr John: No, and there are some good examples in this side of London. You have the tri-borough of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham. They have a community budget employability programme that they are working on with JCP. Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham are doing public transformation network work on employability, again with the local JCP. I would like to see greater accountability at a political level of what JCP is doing, trying to meet local political priorities. If you have that environment, you are going to get better outcomes because, as Sharon said so eloquently, partnership working is going to lead to better outcomes for local residents and deliver on that promise of jobs and growth.
Q373 Nigel Mills: Do you think it is possible to bridge silos with partnership working rather than just saying the only way to get that local accountability and that closer working is actually to move the actual line reporting in to the council? If my boss is in DWP and tells me I have to achieve this to get my promotion or bonus, it is very hard for me to think I want to meet your priorities.
Cllr John: I agree. I do not know whether that is London Councils’ line, but it is my line. Realistically, there has to be one person in charge locally, and I think that should be the local authority. We have seen it in public health. However much you try, my experience as Chair of our local Health and Wellbeing Board is that the NHS and local GPs are still working to different masters and different agendas, and it is therefore very difficult to influence their public health thinking in a meaningful way. If you had somebody clearly in charge in that situation, as with the JCP and work programmes, you would get a better outcome. I do not suppose any of that is going to happen any time soon, though, so in the meantime partnership working has to be the thing. If the Committee wants to say anything in that regard-
Cllr Taylor: Councils will be quite happy to be the accountable body for funding allocated by DWP centrally. We would be very pleased to take on that role, and we have proved our role in delivering efficiencies, so I do not think there is any question about local government being able to deliver services locally efficiently. We think it is a more efficient way of doing it.
Nigel Mills: I think the LGA would be happy for councils to run the world.
Cllr John: It would be a very efficient world.
Q374 Nigel Mills: Can I just ask a parochial question? My area has twotier authorities: district and county. When you are talking about roles that councils can take on, are you thinking this is mainly an upper-tier council responsibility? I suppose housing benefit is actually a lower-tier responsibility. Where do you think this sits between the two?
Cllr Taylor: I am leader in a two-tier authority as well, so that is a very big question. As you know, the discretionary social fund sits at upper-tier level, whereas the housing benefit responsibility and so on sits at district level. This will be different things in different areas, but I think the more local you are, the more able you are to deliver against your own area’s local economic needs. It needs to be the best configuration that will deliver against local economic needs. Where you have a LEP that is coterminous with the upper-tier authority, you may want to put it there. Where a LEP covers a number of areas that straddle district boundaries, you may want to configure it slightly differently. We have to think that through properly. With the accountability sitting at a local level, we can do what is best for the local economy and make sure that work programmes are geared to the local economy.
Q375 Chair: We have heard a lot about the short-term approach of JCP, because their measure is off-benefit flows and things. In the examples you have given this morning and your written evidence, where you mentioned Newcastle, the local authorities have taken a strategic lead in employment services. Do you have any evidence that, in those partnerships, JCP has been forced or encouraged to take a longer-term approach to things?
Cllr Taylor: I do not have that evidence in front of me. We can have a look and see what is happening in Newcastle and areas where they have done that.
Q376 Chair: Obviously our focus is on JCP, and we need to find out if there are other ways of working that encourage JCP not to work in silo and not to work to very short-term targets.
Cllr Taylor: Yes.
Cllr John: I mentioned the example of the Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham community budget approach, where we are working with JCP. It is such an early stage that I cannot really say whether that is having an impact.
Q377 Chair: You did say that one person should be in charge. In these examples, which body is actually in charge? Is it the local authority or is it JCP?
Cllr John: I think it should be the local authority.
Chair: Well, you are going to say that.
Cllr John: I would say that, yes, because of all the arguments about local accountability and democratic accountability. It does present some interesting challenges, because in London, for instance, you have the Mayor with his regional responsibility chairing the LEP, so where would responsibility lie? I still think it would lie at a borough level, but working perhaps to targets and strategies endorsed by the LEP at a regional level. I think it can be made to work.
Cllr Taylor: We can work it out, Chair.
Chair: Thanks very much. The House is now sitting, so that is why our colleagues all disappeared off. Thank you very much for coming along this morning. Your evidence will be very useful for us when we come to write our report.