Select Committee on Social Security Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 288)



Kali Mountford

  280. I am having a second bite of the cherry so I will be very quick. I am interested in my own area actually, the Calderdale and Kirklees pilot. We have been told that 40 per cent of the R&O interviews will be done from other areas like Somerset and Gwent. How confident can we be that those staff have adequate understanding of the local labour market in Calderdale and Kirklees and can deliver the service we need?
  (Ms Eagle) Initially they will be collecting information. The call centre is virtual: you might get directed to someone who does not actually live in Calderdale or Kirklees. When we did our pilots in Lewisham and Camden, on some of these issues they were dealt with in Glasgow and Belfast and we did not have a problem. That is all I can say. Clearly somebody who is answering a virtual call centre hundreds of miles away from your area is not going to say "I saw a job in the shop window around the corner, why do you not apply for that?" The Registration and Orientation interview, certainly in the call centre variant, is going to be about establishing information, entitlements, evidence for the claim and perhaps some more general comments about Job Search straight away which would involve going down to the local Employment Service.
  (Mr Smith) Can I add to that? The 40 per cent figure strikes me as high, and might be considered to be unnecessarily high. I would want to get it down significantly below that if at all possible because the idea with the call centres is to have one in each pilot area and of course to network them for an overflow facility. It would seem to me that something is not working very efficiently if as much as 40 per cent has to be put in the overflow capacity. We will go away and look at that.[5]

  281. That is encouraging. We have visited Glasgow, it is not necessarily that horrific but nevertheless we all think our own area is unique, do we not?
  (Ms Eagle) What happens if they all went on holiday?

  282. Good point.
  (Mr Smith) Other things being equal I think we can all see very good reason why it is better if those at the call centre on Registration and Orientation do know something more about the area because issues are going to arise about appointments for attending ONE centres, issues are going to arise about travel to those ONE centres, and these are the sorts of things where you are going to need local knowledge.

  283. Those are the issues that have been raised particularly by the voluntary sector representatives, people with disabilities. We have looked at the variants on the basic model, and obviously the call centre model is one such variant, I know, Angela, that you visited Kirklees and spoke to the voluntary sector there. Is there a possibility that we could perhaps include the voluntary sector in the call centre pilots a little bit more because they have such extensive knowledge that they could give added value to the pilots?
  (Ms Eagle) As we have tried to do in all the pilot areas, we have a networking process and a two-way flow of ideas, information, opinions and consultation with the voluntary sector. If they have particular contributions that they think they can make they should let the local implementation manager know how they might become involved. We will listen to any suggestions.

  Kali Mountford: Thank you, that is encouraging.

Judy Mallaber

  284. We are short of time so I am going to sweep up a whole number of questions on the private/voluntary sector in one go rather than keep coming back again. We are interested in knowing what skills, experience and expertise private sector organisations can bring to the ONE project that are not present in the public sector and also if you can give some examples of the type of innovation that has been shown by those private sector organisations that have been shortlisted currently? Particularly I am interested from the Employment Committee, having met Reed and looked at the New Deal, as to whether their performance in the Hackney New Deal sector is going to influence in any way what we think about their ability to deliver. Finally if you could just say whether you have had any problems with those organisations that have been shortlisted, are they all still with us?
  (Mr Smith) In terms of the skills, expertise and value added that they might contribute, it is a trite answer but it is one of the purposes of the pilots to find out what they can add. You can imagine the sources of that value added. They might manage the front end more efficiently. They might have more vigorous and robust regimes for performance improvement against the indicators of performance. They might have original ideas as to how the initial interview is to be conducted. They might have new proposals on how the ONE service is to interface with both the core BA and ES operations and the downstream services. The short answer is that we will find out and that is why we are doing it. In terms of the sorts of experiences of those bidding, clearly a number have been involved in the New Deals, the New Deal for Young People, the New Deal for 25-Plus pilots, others have got employment agency more broadly advisory experience, others have been involved in Welfare to Work programmes elsewhere. It is quite a broad pool of experience which they are drawing on. The applications, the bids, will be judged strictly on merit and moreover we are very mindful that we are talking here about a gateway, the first point of contract, the entry to a system that has got to serve the needs of some very vulnerable people, some of whom literally do not know where their next penny is coming from, and therefore it is very important that the quality and standard of service meets the demanding thresholds. We shall be ensuring that happens.

  285. Are they still with us, the current bidders?
  (Mr Smith) They are all still with us. Whether each of the bidders is fully engaged with each of the areas in which they had an interest— When I visited the North Nottinghamshire pilot I was advised that one of the bidders—someone can remind me which one it is or I can let the Committee know later—I was asked this at a public meeting and I told the public meeting that I had heard, as indeed I had heard, that they were not focusing their main attention on pursuing that bid. It was Arthur Andersen if I recall correctly who were concentrating their attention more on a bid elsewhere.


  286. Thank you very much indeed. Perhaps you would just indulge me before you both get up and go. I have waited 20 years to hear a Social Security Minister speak as Angela has spoken this morning, if I may say so. Andrew and I have plenty of discussions through the Employment Select Committee. I have a bit of a puzzle. It was always an unwritten assumption that because we did not let people know what they were entitled to, and by God we were not going to let them know, that was always a way in which we saved money in the system.
  (Ms Eagle) Yes.

  287. Another thing that I would just like your comment on is how are you going to reassure the Daily Mail readers that you are going to devise this very sensible accessible client driven service but still be tough on scroungers and tough on fraud?
  (Ms Eagle) Firstly, I think there are two crude models of our welfare system. One is the one we are emerging from where it is horrible to use, it is so unpleasant and nasty that people avoid it at all costs. It is like a treadmill that is going too fast, where the staff have massive amounts of processing to do and they do not have time to get their accuracy rates up. My view is that you lose more in fraud and programme wastage in that kind of system than you do by moving to the system we are trying to pioneer in the ONE service which is personalised, helpful, maximising people's entitlement but saying "we really do not want you to be on our books if you are of working age and you can actually get a job". Shepherding, helping, being there to give confidence, get a dynamic movement rather than have this kind of system that is horrible where nobody gives you any information about what benefits you can get and they hope they will save money because you will not apply for the right one, if I can caricature it. I think there are savings in the programme and fraud, improvements in security to be made by moving to the second model, I am convinced of it. I think a lot of our programme expenditure is duplication, overpayments. The PAC would tell you, it certainly did when I was a Member of it, how difficult it is to get benefits payments right in that kind of environment. I think there are savings to be made by moving to this other system and I hope very much that these pilots will prove that.
  (Mr Smith) Our messages are not uniquely tailored to the Daily Mail. For the readers of all newspapers and none I think the basic message "no interview, no benefit" is a pretty tough one. I think the message that people have got responsibilities that go along with their rights is one which the general public supports but I think equally they will see that making more help available in a more efficient and effective way is better for the client and better for society at large and ultimately better for the taxpayer too. On the level of fraud I would simply put the question back: would there be more or less fraud if people were not all asked to turn up for an interview? The answer is no, there would not be less fraud without the interview.

Mr Kirkwood

  288. We have had very good value out of this morning's session, I am sure all my colleagues would agree, but because of the tightness of time there are one or two areas we have not covered, particularly evaluation and some of the targeting[6] We are to get Heads of Report on 22 June which does not give a lot of time but I wonder if we could get some questions to you by way of written communication perhaps you could try and answer them.
  (Mr Smith) We would be very pleased to.
  (Ms Eagle) Happy to.

  Mr Kirkwood: Thank you.

  Chairman: On behalf of my colleagues, thank you very much indeed for an interesting conversation on attempts to join up Government from a joined up Select Committee. Thank you.

5   See Ev. p.118. Back

6   See Ev. p.118. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 16 July 1999