Select Committee on Works and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Letter to the Committee Specialist from Action for Employment (A4E) (OP 18)

  Dear Janet,

Note to Work and Pensions Select Committee on ONE in North Cheshire

  1.  In response to the Select Committee's request for input from A4E, we submit the observations listed. We have steered clear of detail and focussed on high level points designed to inform the process at a policy level. Further detail can be supplied on request.


  2.  Public/private sector partnership can be a highly effective method of delivering this service. Combining the strengths, resources and experience of the Civil Service with the fresh, flexible approach of A4E has resulted in excellent relationships, excellent performance (jobs and claim accuracy) and superb client satisfaction.

  3.  Superb relationships with the voluntary sector and other stakeholders, through open, honest dialogue have led to near-universal approval of what A4E are doing with ONE. This was quickly achieved, despite initial hostility from many organisations pre-launch, by proactively seeking the input of these organisations into the initial process design at a local level so that they felt some ownership of ONE in North Cheshire.

  4.  A4E's only real understanding of genuine policy intent has come from high-level constructive dialogue with the Ministers and more Senior Civil Servants working on ONE.

  5.  It is disappointing that this approach is not replicated further down the line. While local Civil Servants have been supportive, helpful and have undoubtedly played a part in making the implementation of A4E's ONE pilot a resounding success, there appears to be pressure to maintain a distance and put up barriers. Our perception is that all Agency planning has the default classification of "secret", and that by the time it is declassified, it is too late to have any influence on that planning.

  6.  The result is that at a local level, where the ONE experts in AAE's management team operate, A4E has been excluded from the detailed evaluation of the pilots and any strategic planning activity. There has been a lack of openness, an unwillingness to reciprocate A4E's policy of sharing information and no real sharing of best practice at practitioner/management level. Such activity has probably happened at contract management level—but without the benefit of primary information sources and input, its value is severely compromised.

Delivery approach

  7.  The "generalist" approach (where the same adviser deals with the benefit claim and the work-focussed interview) has proven to be highly effective in North Cheshire. It improves individual productivity and thus pilot performance—as underlined by the job outcome figures in North Cheshire, and the excellent accuracy of claim form completion statistics.

  8.  The introduction of the Electronic Claim Form has helped to significantly reduce the training period required for the generalist approach.

  9.  It is A4E's experience is as follows: the generalist approach is the least expensive and the easiest to manage; it delivers the best Job Outcomes, the best client satisfaction (real one-to-one personal advice from start to finish); it offers staff a more varied role, more individual client understanding and better job satisfaction. Despite all of this, A4E is actively being encouraged to operate a different model—we have been given no satisfactory explanation as to why.

  10.  The A4E ONE team highlights the following as key elements to consider when developing the pilot:

    i.  Mandatory intervention interviews for some non-JSA client groups would undoubtedly improve Job Outcome ratios.

    ii.  Whilst JSA clients go through ONE to make their initial claim, they then go to the Job Centre for their fortnightly sign-ons and the 13 & 26 week interventions. These meetings could be conducted by the same ONE advisers who conducted their original PA meeting. The continuity this would bring is more in line with the ONE ethos and would ultimately increase the number of Job Outcomes.


  11.  A4E has introduced a lot of innovative ideas and practices to the pilot in North Cheshire, chiefly around process and environment. But innovation has proved very hard work to implement in the pilot, the management time and effort required to introduce the tiniest change is almost prohibitive. Small innovations, even those with no cost implications, can have significant impact on performance but are resisted by local Civil Servants who, as with the "sharing information" issue referred to, have the will but do not believe they have the authority.

  12.  Innovation was clearly policy intent, if it is to happen there needs to be local freedom to exercise common sense. The approach to innovation within the funding model is ill-conceived. We are told the intention was to encourage innovation—the funding approach discourages real innovation and results in the monies being set aside for innovation being spent on "added value" style projects. These certainly have merit but are not innovation. If there is one way of ensuring that an organisation does not innovate, it is to insist that staff submit detailed plans and budget for it well in advance. Innovation is a nebulous process; it is not a planned, packaged and budgeted product.


  13.  A4E only has access to a small proportion of the budget for ONE in North Cheshire (essentially, staffing costs). If we were able to use the entire budget and sort out our own premises, equipment, suppliers etc., we could deliver much, much more for every tax pound allocated to ONE.

  14.  It is impossible to anticipate all the questions which members of the Select Committee might have about the running of ONE in North Cheshire, we would be very keen to discuss ONE with the Select Committee on a face-to-face basis.

Steve Galbraith

Director of Group Development

7 November 2001

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