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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I agree entirely with the spirit of this amendment. Personal advisers will play a crucial role in the "one" service. On their training, their skills and professionalism, the success of "one" will depend. They will support an extremely diverse client group, with very different needs. This calls for a wide range of skills, and a comprehensive programme of training. We have therefore devoted a great deal of time, attention and resources to devising the right programme of learning. However, I hope to convince your Lordships that it is not necessary or appropriate to specify the content of this learning in regulations as this amendment seeks to do; in fact, it is possibly unwise.
First, it is important to remember that we are not starting out with a blank sheet of paper. Many advisers will bring considerable expertise to their role. Those who come from the Employment Service will be well versed in identifying vacancies and matching clients to them. In fact, some will have previously been working as personal advisers in one of the existing New Deal programmes. And, of course, Benefits Agency staff will have experience in the complexities of the benefits system and dealing sensitively with groups such as lone parents and carers. So the training needs of each adviser will be different.
What we require is a flexible programme of learning, tailored to people's individual needs. For example, Benefits Agency and local authority staff are more likely to need additional support in interviewing or submitting clients for jobs, while staff in the Employment Service are likely to need training to improve their knowledge of the benefits system. In other words--to paraphrase--we first need to assess the baggage of skills with which potential personal advisers come to the process--whether they have come from the Employment Service, local authorities or whatever--and then we expose them to the appropriate training module to ensure that at the end of it, whatever their background, they are fully trained and we can have confidence in their capacities.
To give certain areas of training greater weight, as this amendment would do, would therefore be unhelpful. It would remove the essential flexibility at the heart of the "one" service, and make it more difficult to respond to individual training needs. We would not want to spend time and resources training a personal adviser in the principles of job placement who, for example, had come from the Employment Service and had been doing the self-same job for the past three years.
In addition, a key aim of the "one" service is to bring together different sources of expertise at a single contact point. This will give personal advisers ready access to a wide range of specialist support services, such as disability employment advisers and housing advisers. So
Baroness Buscombe: Perhaps I can ask a question in that regard. Will the advisers be allowed to bring those expert colleagues into the interview or will they be seeking advice outside the interview? That may be difficult. If they have only one opportunity a year to interview a person, they may not know the right questions to ask or how to respond to the interviewee without reference to certain specialist advice. They will not be able to do that if they only find out at that stage what sort of person they have before them.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The advisers will have between 200 and 300 hours of training; it is the most extensive training I can recall. We estimate that the training for individual personal advisers will cost on average £2,000 per head. It is a significant investment in training.
We will expect the advisers to be fairly widely competent but where, as we discussed earlier, we were dealing with somebody who had specific disability difficulties but who wanted to go into work and needed to know whether certain types of job may or may not be possible, that would be the point at which an adviser may seek the expert help of a colleague in the disability employment field. They will discuss whether that is done at the point of interview or subsequently. Essentially the personal advisers will be working as a team in an office. What may happen is that in some cases they may need to refer somebody on in the same office in the course of an interview. It may equally be possible that they want to obtain additional information and include it in the interview. We expect the personal advisers to be broadly generically qualified, but we also expect them to recognise occasionally their limitations and at that point to seek additional expert information.
The programme is based on a series of modules and people will take those modules to build up their expertise. We have consulted with personal advisers and their managers in the "one" pilot areas. We have asked them to identify the areas in which they do not already have the necessary skills to operate effectively. In some cases these are the areas mentioned in the amendment--though there are also other areas.
I can reassure the Committee that the personal advisers who are involved in the "one" pilots--that is, the four basic pilots which began on 28th June--have been thoroughly trained and possess the required competencies, knowledge and skills. The Employment Service, Benefits Agency and Child Support Agency have worked together to produce a programme of learning for all staff in the "one" service. Although the amount of training will differ in every case, on average each member of staff will carry out over 200 hours of learning before taking up their post. That equates to 35 days, which is why I came up with seven weeks. Some members of staff may require considerably more than that. This formal programme will be augmented on the ground through the close partnerships which are being put in place with local voluntary organisations. In
External organisations have been closely involved in this process. We have developed training in the needs of special client groups--in association with organisations such as Gingerbread, SCOPE, RNIB, the Carers' National Association, MIND and the National Schizophrenic Fellowship. All of those organisations have spoken at training events. Their involvement has been invaluable, and we will continue to work with them throughout the pilots. For example, several of those groups will be undertaking a review of all existing training material on disability issues and will also be helping the "one" service to design a new training programme on disability awareness, which all staff will be required to undertake. Throughout the pilot scheme we will be testing and refining all aspects of the training package to make sure that it provides the best possible foundation for the "one" service. Where further learning needs are identified, new packages will be developed.
That was the point in relation to the pilots. I have here a summary of the modules to which a personal adviser will be exposed during training. It is in the House of Commons Library and I am happy to put a copy in our Library and send a copy to the noble Baroness. For example, it includes areas starting with knowledge and skills, communication skills, team working, working with outside organisations, how to handle violent clients and the like. Secondly, it gives an overview of various government services, the Employment Service, DSS, BA, CSA and a detailed knowledge of benefits and conditions of entitlement, detailed training in IT systems and in-work benefits, a knowledge of employment service interventions, and so on.
As I say, I am happy to send this information to the noble Baroness, but it is extremely detailed. I hope that I have reassured the Committee that we are addressing the areas identified in this amendment in our overall training package. It is simply that we want the flexibility to respond to individual needs according to the background with which a potential adviser comes into the programme. Not every member of staff will require all aspects of the training, whereas some may require considerably more. Therefore, I do not believe that it is sensible to specify the content of the training in legislation. That would be far too prescriptive. I hope that in light of my explanation that we are taking training extremely seriously; that we are investing considerable effort; that we are working closely with organisations; and that it is a flexible module procedure, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Lord Rix: Before the Minister sits down, wearing my heart on my sleeve, may I also add that MENCAP is involved with the voluntary organisations in the training process. It was made clear to personal advisers that it was only the beginning of their training. They were
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am happy to confirm that. I was addressing that point partly to the issue of pilot schemes. MENCAP has been involved and we have found that invaluable. As and when people need more training or identify gaps in their training needs, we shall return to them. It is right to say that the spirit of the amendment will be made or broken on the skill, competence and the sensitivity of the personal advisers.
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