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Prison and Probation Service Investigations

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department for what reason the target to close 70 per cent. of prison and probation service investigations within 12 weeks was not met. [68783]

Hilary Benn [holding answer 11 July 2002]: The target to which the hon. Member refers is set by the Ombudsman for Prisons and Probation. The Ombudsman sets a target of issuing a final report of his investigations within 12 weeks. In his annual report for 2000–01, published on 27 June, the Ombudsman reports a decline in performance in meeting this target in the case of complaints from prisoners, from 73 per cent. of cases dealt with in 1999–2000 to 63 per cent. of cases dealt with in 2000–01. As explained in his report, the drop in performance was largely brought about by a 53 per cent. increase in the number of eligible complaints, an increase which he attributes to a speeding up of the Prison Service complaints system so that more prisoners are prepared to complete the complaints process before going to the Ombudsman direct. Most complaints and appeals are now answered by the Prison Service within six weeks. The Ombudsman can only investigate once the internal complaints process has been completed.

The Ombudsman was awarded additional resources to cope with the backlog in 2001–02 and it has now substantially decreased.

The Ombudsman's remit did not extend to complaints relating to the National Probation Service until September 2001, and they are not covered in his annual report. All these complaints are being completed by his office on time.

Probation Service

John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the financial position of Bull/Integris was taken into account before the standard technical environment for the Probation Service contract was let on 1 January. [65420]

Hilary Benn: The National Probation Directorate commissioned the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to assess the financial position of Groupe Bull and its subsidiary Bull Information Systems (including the business division Integris) prior to the shortlisting of service providers for the STEPS contracts.

After shortlisting and prior to award of the STEPS contracts, the National Probation Directorate commissioned a firm of forensic accountants to evaluate the financial risks regarding the sale of Integris by Bull Information Systems to Steria.

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On-going financial checks will be carried out on Integris (now renamed as Steria following the change of ownership) throughout the life of the STEPS contracts.

John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many computer terminals are operational within the National Probation Service in England and Wales. [65422]

Hilary Benn: There are currently 17,357 terminals in use in the National Probation Service.

John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the maintenance charges are for the probation STEPS contract during normal working hours; what the charge is (a) between 6.00 pm and 10.00 pm for an office and an area, (b) for a Saturday and a Sunday event, (c) in relation to an office relocation and (d) for the installation of a computer or printer; and whether the contract with Integris for these matters represents value for money. [65421]

Hilary Benn: It is normal in contracts such as these for the information requested to be covered by commercial confidentiality clauses. However, recent press reports on this subject have been so inaccurate and misleading that both the supplier and the National Probation Directorate felt it appropriate to correct some specific points.

The Standard Technical Environment for the Probation Service (STEPS) contract provides the foundation for the development of IT in the Probation Service. Earlier this year it became one of the first contracts to pass through the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) Gateway process, set up to scrutinise Government contracts for value and purpose.

The core support hours for the contract are Monday to Friday from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm. The 'maintenance charges' to extend these hours to provide full service cover for a whole office between 6.00 and 10.00 pm on a weeknight would be £2,661. On a Saturday the cost to support the entire network of 15,000 desktops across England and Wales would be £8,704. On a Sunday, the same cost would be £11,600. To deliver this service the supplier has to provide people on call around the country, responding to incidents and resolving problems. These costs would only be paid should this work be needed. To date, in the lifetime of this contract, it has not been. The cost to move a workstation would be £192. The contract represents good value for money.

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department for what reason the target for the proportion of cases under Probation Service supervision where the service responds to a breach of conditions by taking action in accordance with the national standards has not been met. [68785]

Hilary Benn [holding answer 11 July 2002]: Probation Service national standards provide clear guidelines on what the Probation Service is expected to deliver in respect of enforcement of breach action. Performance is closely monitored and there is clear evidence of an improvement increases of breach action from 51 per cent. of cases in 1998 to 70 per cent. in September 2000 (the last date for validated returns). This is against a target of 90 per cent. This improvement has been achieved at the same time as the standard against which performance was measured was significantly toughened during the period.

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The enforcement target is one of a package of targets for which there is a direct cash-related link to performance. That link supports the work which is being undertaken by the Probation Service to improve performance in this area through the review of enforcement procedures.

Child Protection (Sport)

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what meetings he has had with Ministers in other Departments with regard to (a) child protection in sport and (b) inter-agency working on child protection in sport; [69127]

Hilary Benn: Although the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) has been set up as an executive agency of the Home Office, its work supports the policy objectives of several Departments including the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) objectives of improving child protection in sport. Employers and other organisations taking forward the policies on child protection of DCMS and other Departments are already making substantial use of the CRB service.

No ministerial meetings have been arranged specifically on these subjects. But sport was represented on the CRB's customer forum which advised on the implementation of the bureau. Officials have also had a number of ad hoc meetings with representatives of sports organisations with regard to checks for child protection purposes, as they have with other Departments and with a range of other organisations about checks for this and other purposes.

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what the status is of (a) referees and umpires, (b) referees' assistants, (c) match officials and (d) others who receive remuneration for their involvement in the context of the Criminal Records Bureau disclosure information checks; [69129]

Hilary Benn: We announced in February of last year that standard and enhanced disclosures will be issued free of charge in the case of volunteers. The Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) Regulations 2002 define a volunteer as a person engaged in an activity which involves spending time, unpaid (except for travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses), doing something which aims to benefit some third party other than or in addition to a close relative. Those persons in the categories mentioned who met the criteria for these levels of Disclosure which are set out in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 and section 115 of the Police Act 1997 and whose remuneration amounted only to travel and other approved out-of-pocket expenses would, of course, be entitled to a free Disclosure.

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0870 Telephone Numbers

Mr. Randall: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to the answer of 9 July 2002, Official Report, column 896W, if he will list the services accessed by the public for which 0870 numbers are used; and what factors are considered in reaching a decision. [71130]

Hilary Benn: The Home Office and its agencies use a total of 11 0870 numbers:

Decisions in all cases were taken on the basis of estimates of the cost to the Department, the cost to the customer, the likely volume of calls that might be generated if 0800, 0845 or 0870 numbers were used, and the impact that volume of calls might have on the levels of service provided.

Additionally, for the Immigration and Nationality Enquiry Bureau number, the use of an 0870 number was agreed on the grounds that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) would reinvest any money earned back into improving the telephone bureau operation and thereby customer service. This has been done and £0.75 million was invested this spring in the purchase of a new switchboard with increased functionality.

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