Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2002
MP, MR LEIGH
360. Just so, but what I wanted to ask you is
when you will be in the position to take a decision about whether
there will be private sector involvement or not.
(Mr Brown) We are rolling it out as a public service.
I would certainly want to evaluate the lessons from the final
report on the ONE pilots to see if there was anything
361. You cannot give a date?
(Mr Brown) 2002 will be when the ONE pilots are, I
imagine, drawn to a close.
Obviously I wait for advice closer to the time. Remember that
as we roll out a Jobcentre Plus, and the Government is firmly
committed to making Jobcentre Plus a uniform service across the
country, we will absorb the ONE pilots in that. The idea is that
it will be a seamless move from the ONE pilot to the Jobcentre
Plus service, and that is a public sector service; that is the
Government's plan. Of course, if the evidence from the pilots
shows something that the Government would want to take account
of then we will, but the early evidence is not really there.
362. Can I move on to ask a question about one
of the three contractors involved, which was Deloitte Consulting,
who have withdrawn from involvement in Leeds and Suffolk? Has
this resulted in any problems?
(Mr Brown) I was disappointed, frankly, because the
purpose of the pilots was to enlist private sector involvement
as well as what the public sector could do in innovative circumstances,
but the advice to me as the Minister was very clear. Since they
were withdrawing they could not continue and since we wanted to
continue with the pilot the recommendation was that the public
sector should take it over and that is what we have done.
363. Can I come to some of the reasons why they
may have withdrawnand these were problems that were expressedI
think it is fair to say, by all three witnesses and not just by
Deloittes, which were that they felt from their experience of
ONE that there was commitment at the top from politicians like
yourself and from others and there was enthusiasm at the grass
roots, but what they expressed some frustration with was what
you could call the middle level where they said that there was
an administrative tier that was preoccupied by process and procedure
at the expense of bringing initiative and more flexibility into
providing employment opportunities. What is your reaction to that?
(Mr Brown) The point has been made to me, and I have
tried to have a look at it, but there are countervailing arguments
about the need to safeguard public money. It would be a rash minister
who would say, "We will put those to one side".
364. And you are giving more weight, are you,
at the moment to that consideration that you have just mentioned
than to the private sector view that there has been inflexibility
in this middle sector?
(Mr Brown) We are looking probably at the same issue
but through different sets of eyes. People have differences of
view depending on where they are coming from. I have not seen
anything that convinces me that those who are in charge of administering
the overview of the projects have behaved unfairly to the private
sector. If people really wanted to press that point I would be
happy for them just to come in and see me and to make that point
and nobody has done that so far.
365. Do you think there have been any lessons
you have learned at all from the private sector about realising
the potential of public sector staff or encouraging what is sometimes
called a "can-do" mentality?
(Mr Brown) It is certainly true that the staff in
Jobcentre Plus, who are working in the reception areas, meeting
the public in an unscreened environment, taking this proactive
role with claimants, overwhelmingly enjoy what they are doing
and believe the proactive role is right. Staff that I have met
who are doing outreach work on one of the Action for Jobs projects
have said that they like the local discretion, they like the ability
to go and meet people in their homes rather than always to see
people in an office, and that this freedom to take decisions at
a local level is something they find helps to make the job more
fulfilling. The early evidence is that it gets results as well.
I think there is a very strong case for that approach. I do not
take the view that it is something that can only be done in the
private sector and cannot be done in a public service. Indeed,
the early evidence from the Jobcentre Plus pilots is that the
public service is taking to this very well and relishing it. I
have visited six of the Pathfinder sites now and my experience
was uniform, and I really do not believe that people were just
putting on a show because it is the Minister visiting. People
were pretty blunt and candid and willing to talk but were very
committed to what they are doing.
366. Are there any lessons that the public sector
can learn from the private sector in terms of getting value for
(Mr Brown) I think the services we are providing are
value for money. I certainly think that the "can-do"
approach is the right one. I would not say that it was alien to
public service. Indeed, I am just describing circumstances where
it is to be found. On Andrew's earlier point about were the ONE
pilots value for money, yes, I think they were. I think the initial
monies spent were proportionate to what it was we were trying
to discover. Remember that the conclusions which are being drawn
from all this are informing substantial decisions on public expenditure
and it is a whole series of very significant changes in the way
we provide these important public services, not just in the way
we provide them front of house but also in the equipment and technologies
we use to back up the provision of the service.
367. Coming back to that answer for a moment,
I was not implying that the public sector has no experience at
all, is incapable of realising value for money. I was simply asking
directly whether the public sector has anything to learn at all
from the private sector and, if so, how much.
(Mr Brown) That is quite a deep philosophical question.
I think we all have things to learn from each other. The important
thing is to keep talking and to keep abreast of current developments.
368. The private sector companies, very bluntly,
did not feel that you were doing enough to engage their expertise
in the lessons they have learned in the development of Jobcentre
Plus. What is your comment on that?
(Mr Brown) They have not said that to me, is my comment
to that, or to the officials that advise me. If they have said
it to yourselves, if they would like to come and see me or see
my officials, I am always happy to see them. The point is new
to me personally and if someone wants to come and make a complaint
or explain something to me then I am always happy to see them.
369. I think it is an important point that the
private sector are involved in these pilots because they may have
something to teach us. It is very important that they should be
encouraged. I am disturbed that the message has not got through
to you because it was as clear as a pikestaff to us when we took
evidence from them. If of course the private sector feel that
only lip service is being paid to what they can do and that they
are fettered by the unions or whatever, and that was a clear,
strong feeling, then we are not going to get the benefit from
them and they will not even bid for these things. I do hope that
you will get your officials to follow that up.
(Mr Brown) It is not clear to me how they could be
fettered by the unions but perhaps somebody is going to spell
this out. After all, they are private sector companies undertaking
a particular contract which they have entered into with the Government.
370. The point I would make is this. The private
sector were becoming involved in an area where they have not been
involved before and if they are discouraged and if the culture
is one that discourages them we will not get the best out of the
private sector in terms of innovation and support within the pilot
process. That is the point I am making. I hope your officials
will look at the last point that Paul made to see whether there
is something to learn in the future about the way these things
are handled in the private sector.
(Mr Brown) There are three points to make on that.
The contractual terms are the same for private sector organisations
and public sector organisations, and indeed the organisation that
is a mix of some public sector and some private sector involvement.
371. I am making a cultural point.
(Mr Brown) If people have something to say then I
am willing to see them. They should come in and see me and talk
about it, but it is also the case that there is significant private
sector involvement in delivering employment services. There are
private recruitment agencies, specialist agencies, that earn their
living doing this because the people who employ them think they
do the job and do it well. Of course all employers look to their
own in-house recruitment techniques as well, so it is private
sector employers as well as public sector ones. It is not that
there is no private sector expertise in the area.
372. I absolutely understand the point but nevertheless
it was clear evidence to us that the private sector did not feel
that their expertise had been engaged to the extent that it could
have been. That is the point I hope you will have a look at.
(Mr Brown) I am sorry they feel like that and I will
have a look at the point, but nothing in my correspondence has
373. From where I am sitting your answers have
been, "Perhaps the private sector have been more cautious
than I would have anticipated". Maybe that is what the brief
says at the top. These people certainly felt that they had taken
a bit of a kicking: they were bound hand and foot and there were
more contract managers than there were pilot managers. In spite
of all this, and in their report Deloittes said there were difficulties,
they still wanted to be round the table and they still felt that
they had a contribution to make, and I was quite struck by that.
The only point I will leave you with, because I want to go into
information technology which is a very important area for us,
is that if Jobcentre Plus gets too set in its waysand that
is pejorative language, I knowit is going to be difficult
to bring them in later on. You say 2002-03. By then the thing
may have crystallised in a way that perhaps does not give them
the opportunity. I am taking a long way round to say that if you
are genuine about your offer of continuing the discussion with
them, I think that that would be something that would be productive.
(Mr Brown) I would certainly want to continue the
dialogue with the private sector. There is a fair bit of the work
that we as a Department are setting out to do that is already
done by the private sector. We reckon we know about a third of
all the jobs that are available in the UK economy at any one moment
in time and the other two-thirds are either managed by employers
in-house, in other words they recruit by their own methods, or
they are handled by private sector agencies. Quite a lot of this
work is already done now and always has been by the private sector.
374. As long as your door is open.
(Mr Brown) It is a continuing dialogue but I must
emphasise that Jobcentre Plus has been rolled out as a public
375. One of the things that we were sent on
Monday was the DWP in-house report number 84, Delivering a
Work Focussed Service, Interim Finding from One Case Study and
Staff Research which made 16 numbered suggestions for change.
What is the date of that?
(Mr Brown) Leigh, what is the date of that?
376. It is germane to what I am going to ask
(Mr Stanton) I am just having this checked but I think
it is September.
377. This September?
(Mr Brown) It is a response to the earlier study of
the ONE pilot.
378. It has made certain recommendations about
IT. As an aside, I might say, I do not recall the private sector
talking about being fettered by the trade unions.
(Mr Brown) I do not understand that.
379. That is not the way I recall the evidence
but I will take that up with the member afterwards perhaps. However,
I do recall people saying that there was some fettering because
of IT, particularly the integration of the Benefits Agency system.
(Mr Brown) I would willingly concede that.
80 Subsequent to the evidence session the Department
for Work and Pensions stated that the ONE Private and Voluntary
Sector Pilots should run until March 2003. Back