Memorandum submitted by The Public and
Commercial Services Union (PCS) (OP 19)
1. The Public and Commercial Services Union
(PCS) is by far the largest civil service trade union with a total
membership of 274,000 working in the civil service and related
2. PCS is the largest union within the Department
of Work and Pensions (DWP), representing over 75,000 members,
the majority of whom work in the former Department for Social
Security and Employment Service. It is these members who have
been charged by the Government with implementing ONE and will
in coming months deliver services in Jobcentre Plus and the Pensions
3. As the union representing the vast majority
of those working in the ONE pilots and within the DWP we welcome
the opportunity to provide this inquiry with our views on the
operation of the ONE pilots and lessons learnt, which will and
have undoubtedly influenced the shape and direction of Jobcentre
4. PCS has a history of working positively
with both Benefits Agency/Department for Social Security management
and strives where possible to work in partnership. Prior to formation
of the Department for Work and Pensions we signed a partnership
agreement with the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Social
Security, Rachel Lomax, and we sincerely hope that both within
the new Department and Jobcentre Plus we can continue to positively
engage with the Government in developing its welfare reform agenda.
5. In our submission to the then Social Security
Select Committee in 1999 we welcomed the introduction of ONE (then
the single work-focussed gateway) with some reservations about
private sector involvement, the resourcing of the pilots, compulsion
and safety. This submission builds on many of those points, although
we have concentrated upon the areas of greatest concern to PCS
members, namely: the involvement of the private sector, safety
6. We are particularly grateful for the
additional time made available to us to prepare this submission,
which given the pressures caused by the introduction of Jobcentre
Plus pathfinders and the associated dispute may be rather shorter
than we would otherwise have preferred.
7. Three companies are involved in providing
ONE services in four private and voluntary sector pilots. In North
Cheshire the contract is run by Action for Employment, in North
Nottinghamshire by Reed, and in Leeds and Suffolk by Deloitte.
8. Both Action for Employment and Deloitte
have chosen to sign up to partnership arrangements with PCS and
entered into a positive dialogue, consulting PCS about local issues
and taking account of our members' views. Unfortunately Reed have
refused to recognise PCS, have been unresponsive to our letters
and decline to consider the views of PCS or our members in any
forum. The latter point is particularly disappointing as all of
the companies are heavily dependent upon secondments from Employment
Service and Benefits Agency.
9. PCS notes that while both Reed and Deloitte
have offered financial incentives to Employment Service and Benefits
Agency staff to second there has been a relatively high turnover
and significant numbers of members have returned to their home
agency during the three-year operational period. We also believe
that the turnover amongst the companies' own staff and that of
the agency staff (employed by Manpower in the case of Deloitte)
is higher than the Employment Service/Benefits Agency average.
10. PCS believes one reason for the high
turnover may be that the financial incentive to transfer has been
eroded by pay increases negotiated with the home agency. In other
words the salaries offered by the companies have not increased
over the life of the contract but the Employment Service and Benefits
Agency salaries have. It is also the case that the rate paid to
agency staff (such as Manpower) has not increased since the contract
commenced in 1999. Clearly the high turnover causes inconsistency
in the service, leads to additional pressure on existing staff
and detracts from the principle of a single personal adviser.
11. There is evidence to suggest that the
private and voluntary sector variant is performing less well than
the basic model, particularly on the "date of claim plus
six" (DOC+6) target. This means that claimants in private
and voluntary sector pilot areas are less likely to receive their
benefit within six days of claiming than elsewhere.
12. One of the reasons advanced at the outset
of ONE for the involvement of the private sector was the chance
of innovation. Unfortunately PCS remains singularly unconvinced
that the involvement of the private sector has encouraged any
13. Action for Employment set out in their
bid a number of innovative ideas. These included a mobile unit
that was intended to travel around the areas of north Cheshire
with highest unemployment, offering advice and counselling directly
on these estates. This innovative idea was abandoned within weeks
of the contract being awarded, the reason being apparently lack
of sufficient funds.
14. We understand Deloitte have abandoned
their innovative plans for an electronic claims form (ECF).
15. In the case of Reed their "jobs
mall" appears to be little more than a few PCs on desks with
access to LMS and the Reed innovative plan, which included a "discovery
centre" as a separate office dealing with non-JSA clients,
already exists in the Employment Service and simply replicates
the employment zone pilot. The Reed "touring jobcentre"
bus also claimed to be an innovative idea and as a result received
additional funding from the Government. However it again was simply
a rehash of the Employment Service and TEC initiative of several
16. The announcement of the extension of
the pilots was unfortunately made without any consultation with
PCS. It is a concern to PCS that, without the detailed information
that has been collated by consultants on the ONE pilots being
shared with us, the decision has been taken to extend them. It
is particularly worrying that the private sector variants are
being extended with the opportunity for the companies to vary
certain parts of the contract, including placing targets, whereas
the basic model will simply continue unchanged for the public
sector. This will clearly disadvantage the in-house pilots in
comparison to the private sector.
17. There also seems to be little concrete
evidence of evaluation of what value the private sector companies
have brought to the process. Even if they were to meet the targets
the civil service reaches it is unclear what extra they bring.
What is also unclear and disadvantages our members in the civil
service is the amount of reliance the private sector has on our
members in Employment Service and Benefits Agency propping up
their provision. The question that remains unanswered is how well
would they perform without any support from Employment Service
and Benefits Agency staff?
18. PCS's evaluation of the three companies
involved in providing ONE services in the four private and voluntary
sector pilots is as follows:
Action for Employment (North Cheshire)
Whilst the company are keen to discuss issues
with PCS they appear to suffer high turnover and have lost a number
of Employment Service secondees. Although Action for Employment
had high turnover initially this now seems to have stabilised.
Local PCS representatives report a high number of inappropriate
referrals and inaccurate and incorrectly completed claims forms,
possibly as a result of inadequate training of Action for Employment
Reeds (North Nottinghamshire)
Our experience of this company is not good.
In addition to refusing to recognise unions they fail to enter
into any constructive dialogue with PCS on the ONE pilot. We are
deeply concerned at their ability to deliver the ONE service.
The recent allegations of fraud over bonus payments in the New
Deal pilots in London (London Evening Standard 15 August
2001), and the internal investigation into Reeds conduct by Employment
Service management, complaints of pressure on clients to accept
unsuitable employment and poor quality of client support services
made by the Citizens Advice Bureau in Merseyside (Liverpool
Daily Post 27 August 2001) cause us grave concern.
Clearly it is essential that companies involved
in the ONE contract must be seen to be professional, scrupulous
and honest. In PCS's opinion these allegations cast doubt upon
Reed's integrity and will have an impact on the credibility of
the ONE pilots generally.
We have also received complaints from our representatives
in North Nottinghamshire that Reed are using untrained or poorly
trained reception staff in the pilot leading to inappropriate
referrals to the Employment Service, such as ex forces clients
not being advised of eligibility to Employment Service programmes
and clients not being re-referred to the New Deal who are within
the 13 week tracking period.
Deloitte (formerly Deloitte/CSL) (Leeds and Suffolk)
The initial contracts for Leeds and Suffolk
were awarded to a consortium of Deloitte and CSL. However within
six months Deloitte and CSL had parted ways. The exact circumstances
of the split are unclear to PCS, as the view of CSL managers and
Deloitte managers seems to differ. However Deloitte took over
the functions (mainly HR and researching the pilots) from CSL
and continue to run the contract alone.
Deloitte also seem to be having difficulty allowing
sufficient time to either secondees or their own staff to complete
the Government's aim of achieving NVQ qualifications for personal
advisers. The current allocation of half a day per month is insufficient
and will lead to fewer advisers receiving the qualification than
Safety in ONE and Jobcentre Plus offices
19. In our submission to the 1999 inquiry
we set out our initial concerns safety:
"Additionally we have some concerns over
health and safety. Proper accommodation is vital if the SWFG is
to be delivered effectively. Ministers have said they want delivery
to take place in an unscreened but safe environment. However the
accommodation used for SWFG must not only be welcoming but it
must provide adequate safeguards for both staff and other users
from the minority of violent and potentially violent people who
we know will use the system. We do not believe that the designers
of the SWFG have given adequate consideration to these safety
issues or indeed the need for some interviews to be conducted
in a confidential environment."
20. Unfortunately there have been assaults
on staff in ONE pilots. Indeed this month has seen a serious stabbing
of a security guard in the Lee Rodding ONE pilot office in Leyton.
It remains the case that unscreened working in ONE offices creates
a higher risk to staff than the current arrangements in Benefits
21. However, where ONE differs from
Jobcentre Plus is that while mandatory work- focussed interviews
apply in the ONE pilots the information we have to date is that
in all 12 pilots lower than average numbers of sanctions have
been imposed, indeed initially we were told that no sanctions
were being issued. It is highly unlikely that in Jobcentre Plus
that this will be the case and therefore the resulting risk of
assault associated with imposed sanctions will be increased dramatically
in Jobcentre Plus. Additionally, whilst there are no screens in
ONE offices, none of them currently deliver social fund, crisis
loans to potentially violent clients or IOP replacements; all
of which will be dealt with in Jobcentre Plus offices, without
22. The PCS policy on safety in Jobcentre
Plus offices was determined by a conference of delegates from
the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service held in Leeds on
24 January 2001. The motion, which carried near unanimous support
of the 500 delegates to the conference, is set out as follow:
"Conference recognises that Health and Safety
is one of the key issues for members moving into the WAA.
We note whilst final decisions on benefit delivery
have not yet been made they are likely to be influenced by practices
in the ONE and Employment Service/Benefits Agency closer working
pilots. In addition Benefits Agency offices are often seen as
the last port of call for some of the most disadvantaged and often
desperate people in society and benefits such as Social Fund payments
are currently delivered in these offices from behind screens.
We also note the prolonged disputes fought by
many union members in Employment Service and Benefits Agency around
health and safety including the removal of screens from some Jobcentres
and the introduction of JSA.
Conference agrees that the removal of screens
from benefit delivery premises can only result in an increased
risk of assault on staff. Conference therefore instructs the Employment
Service and Benefits Agency GECs to mount a major campaign to
be continued, if necessary after the formation of the WAA, to
secure the following demands:
(a) early negotiations with the
employer on benefit delivery with full information available to
(b) all WAA offices involved in
benefit delivery to be screened.
(c) no member of staff should be
forced to work in an unscreened environment.
(d) members should have the right
to determine their own working environment in non-benefit delivery
areas in line with current Employment Service policy.
(e) no removal of screens in existing
Benefits Agency premises.
(f) security guards must be provided
in every office and all relevant furniture and equipment secured.
(g) visiting officers should be
provided with full safety training, mobile phones and should not
be expected to undertake unaccompanied visits.
(h) minimum standards for other
safety measures such as CCTV, secure staff areas, minimum staffing
levels and office layouts must be established and implemented
in every office.
In addition we agree:
1. To instigate an independent risk assessment
once benefit delivery decisions have been made, in line with the
policy agreed at the 2000 BDC.
2. To establish a joint Employment Service/Benefits
Agency campaign committee specifically to take this work forward.
3. To draw up joint Employment Service/Benefits
Agency plans for industrial action if an agreement is not forthcoming."
23. It is our clear view that the work done
in the four ONE basic model offices in which PCS members work
is significantly different to that being asked of our members
in the 55 Jobcentre Plus pathfinder offices. Given the lessons
learnt in ONE our view remains that delivery of certain benefit
decisions, including sanctions, the handling of potentially violent
clients, social fund, hardship interviews and IOP replacements
should be screened and that reception areas should also be screened.
24. Additionally, it is essential that individual
members who feel that a particular client or process should be
transacted in a screened environment should have ready access
to screens. Last year there were over 5,000 assaults within the
Benefits Agency. However, it is not just within the Benefits Agency
where the number of assaults has dramatically increased, in the
Employment Service there were 4,218 assaults in 2000-01, of which
251 were actual physical assaults, and 263 attempted assaults.
All these assaults were in unscreened Jobcentres (where the benefit
decisions planned in Jobcentre Plus are not currently delivered).
Since these figures were published in spring there has been a
stabbing in Croydon, a firebomb attack in Stavely, fourteen monitors
thrown at staff in Huddersfield, and a baseball bat attack in
Welwyn Garden City as well as the recent serious stabbing in Leyton.
There has also been a hammer attack on a security guard in a Benefits
Agency office in Bradford. These incidences add to members' uncertainty
and an increased awareness of safety issues in ONE offices and
Jobcentre Plus in particular.
Call centre variant
25. PCS has recently agreed "call centre
working practices agreements" with both the Employment Service
and Department for Social Security. The broad terms of these agreements
have generally been applied in the ONE call centres. Despite some
teething problems with IT and use of the electronic claim forms,
the experience of most staff seems to be positive and generally
supportive of the approach adopted by management.
26. Some initial concerns over resources
and appropriate levels of staffing appear to have been resolved
through negotiations. Anecdotal evidence from members working
in the call centres is that whilst there is a considerable amount
of traffic, working conditions are no worse than most other call
centres and considerably better than many private sector operations.
27. In our submission to the 1999 Social
Security Select Committee inquiry into the single work-focussed
gateway we made the following observations, which we believe remain
"Whilst most will not see the
requirement to attend a single work-focussed interview as a particularly
onerous requirement for securing benefit it is clear that, once
introduced, there will be pressure to expand the requirement presumably
along the lines of the actively seeking work requirements which
already apply to JSA. Indeed some commentators appear to think
this is already the case. A leader in The Times on 14 January
"Failure to accept a reasonable offer of
work would, for all but the disabled and single parents, invite
the real prospect of benefit being withdrawn."
Whilst this is clearly a misunderstanding
of the Government's present intentions, it is clear that the SWFG
will raise these issues and create a climate favouring not "work
for those who can, security for those who cannot" but a "work
first" approach as is being practised more and more in the
USA which sees movement into low paid and/or temporary work as
the only solution, to the exclusion of training, dealing with
barriers to work and proper welfare support. We would want to
reiterate the point we made in our response to the "New Ambitions
for our Country" Green Paper:
"We support the principle of work. However
we would also want to stress that contributions to society may
take other forms than just paid employment, work is not an option
for everyone (and is unlikely to be for many of those on benefits),
and we must not stigmatise those who are unable to work. Welfare
to work must be accompanied by decent benefits for all where needed,
including those seeking work but unable to obtain it."
There remain problems for some disabled
people in particular who find that they cannot qualify for either
disability benefits or JSA and future developments of SWFG could
continue this disadvantage and potentially make worse by providing
an extra hurdle."
28. Anecdotal evidence suggests that issuing
sanctions and compelling people to certain actions can substantially
damage the relationship with the personal adviser. It is also
the case that the likelihood of violence and assault increase
where sanctions are imposed.
29. We would be happy to discuss the attached
and would welcome an opportunity to supplement verbally.