Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-142)




  140. We could spend productively a lot more time, I am sure, on that but we are now really out of time. Can I just very quickly ask you a question because I rather assumed that in the new contract you will be looking at the resource implications of Capability Reports that Jobcentre Plus will be bringing in for Medical Services. Can you tell us about when you expect to roll that out and whether there are resource implications and whether you have dealt with that in the continuation of the contract?
  (Mr Fisher) The general point is we are absolutely determined to begin a process of integrating, in a sense, the labour market instruments and the benefits from this in a single process, in a single contract. That is a clear thing that we are going to do. As to precise dates, we have only just begun the process of sorting out how we are going to renegotiate the contract, so I cannot yet give you a precise answer.

  141. You have only just started working out how you will renegotiate the contract? I thought you were just about to sign it.
  (Mr Fisher) Sorry. We are about to sign the extension. We have had to sort out the extension in the contract. As to the extension of the Personal Capability Reports, I do not know if there is anything you specifically want to say?
  (Mr Keen) I would say a couple of things perhaps. One is that the Personal Capability Reports themselves are part of an experimental process that is subject to detailed evaluation and ongoing work, it is not something that is in its final form. Clearly it has resource implications. I think we need to be doing two things here. One is looking at how we manage Capability Assessments alongside the current PCA—the current medical examinations—to make sure we have got an efficient and effective process. Secondly, we need to ensure we have properly understood the resource requirement because what we cannot afford to do clearly is cut across our ability to resource the basic benefit assessment, particularly because of the backlog issue that you have highlighted. We are committed to addressing that first and foremost.

  142. Is there anything else you would like to say to us that you have not had the chance to do? Obviously what we are doing this morning is we are not in the middle of an inquiry, we are doing an update report to brief ourselves and I think we have achieved that end, certainly from our point of view. We will be publishing the evidence that people can then study and see. It is important that you do not leave with something left unsaid so the picture is as complete as we can make it at this time.
  (Mr Fisher) There is only one point I would like to make and that is just to emphasise something that I think Dr Hudson said before which was, if we were to sum up, we do think we are getting better. None of us at this end are complacent at all, we have got a lot further to go. I think that is basically to sum up where we stand on all of these issues.

  Chairman: Let me just give you my opinion for what it is worth, I have not discussed this with colleagues at all. I think we have lost two or three years in this contract, effectively. I confess that I am persuaded that there are real attempts now being made. I return to the point right at the very beginning that this is not easy; 825,000 examinations a year in these very sensitive, difficult areas is not easy, and I accept that entirely. But I would really have expected at this stage, when we are talking about some of the appropriate elements of the changed programme that Medical Services are now implementing, that we should have been doing this two years ago. I honestly think we have lost two or three years of effective progress on this contract and we are only beginning to pick up and get to the starting line now. That is a good thing, and we would want to encourage you to do that, but we will be watching you very carefully, as you would expect us to, because our duty is to report to the House as to what progress is being made. My instinct would be that if these improvements continue we would be very pleased to see that but we will want to look very carefully that prospective arrangements are being made for the renegotiation of the contract. Without wishing to add to your workload, and I know that you must be feeling pretty sore with the PAC, National Audit Office and ourselves hounding you all the time, but you will understand that this is an important issue for us to get right for our constituents and for the House of Commons to be confident that everything that can be done is being done to monitor the importance and the effectiveness of this key contract. We wish you well in seeking to achieve the improvements that you have set yourselves, and if you do then I think that will be very welcome, but still, as I think we all agree, there is a long, long way to go. Thank you very much for your attendance this morning, it has been very helpful, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue. Thank you very much.

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