Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



  40. If the whole object is to push people into using the telephone system —
  (Ms Cleveland) It is to push the people who can use the telephone system to use it. For those who cannot use the telephone system we shall look to use other arrangements. I am not going to be able to employ everyone who can speak 160 different languages.

  41. Is this not the basic problem of the model you have developed, which is that you do not have communities being served by their own communities? For example, in my local authority there are people who work there in all the offices who speak not all the local languages because there are too many, but most of the languages for which there is a significant community and they can deal with their queries pretty quickly and efficiently. There are well established times of the day when there is an interpreter available for the other more obscure languages to deal with problems. One way of doing it would be, for example, to have published times when people could phone up and speak to somebody in their own language. The problem is that you are not going to be able to recruit people for London, speaking the major minority languages in London, in Dundee or Glasgow, because they do not exist.
  (Ms Cleveland) We shall be recruiting people in London to serve the local service and a lot of the work we are doing on that local service is how we work with local authorities, how we work with communities to give access to our services. In London we shall have a higher proportion of local service staff, because we know we have more diverse needs in London than in any other part of the country. In the particular example you were looking at, we would be looking to work with a local authority to provide access to our services. Clearly we want to exploit what the local authority can do in terms of helping us with the language. We shall be recruiting our staff into those from the community we are looking to serve.

  42. Let us move on. What lessons have you learned from the ONE call centre pilots about this particular problem?
  (Ms Cleveland) There is not a lot of evidence about the use of the telephone from the ethnic minorities there.

  43. Why do you think that is?
  (Ms Cleveland) Because I do not think that information was necessarily properly collected in the early statistics about it.

  44. So we have no idea whether ethnic community claimants have had difficulty accessing the ONE call centre pilots or using them?
  (Ms Cleveland) I am afraid I have not been in detail into the ONE call centre pilots. On that particular issue, I do not know.
  (Mr MacKinnon) One of the things we have looked at are other models in other countries. In Australia, for example, they operate the contact centre model very well, in fact the public sector contact model is recognised in Australia to be a best-in-class organisation. They have arrangements for dealing with a very diverse population and a number of different languages. They have created some specialist areas. In Sydney, for example, they have people who can speak a number of languages. They have qualifications for their staff to encourage them to learn new languages. We have not looked at all the lessons yet.

  45. That is the point I am making to you. If you have a community serving itself in that respect, using the telephone helpline or whatever, you do not have a problem because you will have the native speakers of the languages concerned. If I phoned Glasgow and got somebody, with all due respect to my Scottish colleagues, with a broad Scottish accent, I might have difficulty understanding them and they might have difficulty understanding me, never mind trying to work through the ethnic community languages.
  (Mr MacKinnon) I have the advantage over you there. Do not forget that there are ethnic populations in Glasgow as well. That is not really what we are trying to do. What we are trying to do is offer accessibility through the telephone for people who can do that. For people who cannot, clearly we have to be able to enable them to know how to approach us initially. That can be done through the local partnership working, which is really something we want to develop. Then it is about how we can do the transaction and if that requires a home visit and if it requires us to send somebody with an interpreter or it requires a phone back with an interpreter on the line, we can arrange all those things. In addition to that, as we develop our understanding of this, we can look at models in other countries where they have similar issues in this area. We can look to see how they have applied different methods of handling that. That is what we intend to do.

  46. Have you looked at any commercial call centres in the UK to see how they deal with this?
  (Mr MacKinnon) Yes, we have looked at commercial call centres in the UK and abroad.

  47. What have you learned from commercial call centres here?
  (Mr MacKinnon) Largely that the model we have been adopting conforms with the way that they have approached the way they deliver their business. We have learned from the best both private and public contact centres.
  (Ms Cleveland) One of the important things there is also that we record the language of people and the way in which they want to contact us, so that if we know that someone when they want to deal with us wants to deal in a certain language, if we need to contact them we can make arrangements to do that through that language. Similarly if a call comes in from that individual, we would know that needs to be something which needs to be rebooked with a telephone translation service as well. It is all part of getting a better customer record and better customer view of how we are going to deal with someone.


  48. I know nothing about this. Coming from South-East Scotland, we do not have any volume of difficulty delivering services, but I am absolutely struck, in every inquiry we do, that there is an ethnic dimension to the delivery of services. It is something we shall be watching very, very carefully ourselves as a committee. Setting up a new service is an absolutely invaluable opportunity which must not be missed in terms of making sure that all these things, all these issues, are properly addressed at the beginning so that you do not have to build on workarounds later on.
  (Ms Cleveland) Certainly we are well aware of that because we have a total customer base to support and the elderly, the disabled and those people without English as a native tongue are the groups we need to focus on.

Ms Buck

  49. Broadly the model is the right one and I do not have a philosophical problem with the model. I do have some concern about the practical implementation of the direct service delivery component. It does seem to me that overwhelmingly it will be through getting the local and personal service right that you will contact your hard-to-reach groups. I really wanted to ask you about the implementation of the two parts of your direct local services. Are you able to say to me that you will have a direct local service providing support directly to customers, including targeted visiting and appointment based surgeries in place across the country in 17 weeks?
  (Ms Cleveland) We will have aspects of it in place in 17 weeks, but we will not undo any of the existing arrangements until we have that in place across the country. We still have existing arrangements with Jobcentre Plus for dealing with these services. We have a plan which we are looking to put in place but there has been some delay in recruitment. Because we are looking to take some people who are currently working in Jobcentre Plus into these areas as well, we are going to run into a few problems about release dates. These are fairly minor in the course of things, but as we take those forward, we are certainly not looking to undo any of those transitional arrangements until we can put that service in place.

  50. I am not sure that they are minor. Given that they are aspects of service which are to provide for the most vulnerable and hard to reach groups, they are absolutely critical, particularly as any delay is going to start impacting into the run-up to Pension Credit and other major changes.
  (Ms Cleveland) May I clarify what I meant? I meant minor in terms of internally, between two parts of the organisation; certainly not minor in the sense of the customer service delivery.

  51. So you are able to assure us that there will be absolutely no areas across the country where face-to-face services in local areas will be withdrawn before the whole new apparatus is set up?
  (Ms Cleveland) I think we need to be clear about exactly what encompasses the whole new apparatus, but we shall not withdraw the interim arrangements until we have the local service fully in place.

  52. Why are you having recruitment difficulties?
  (Ms Cleveland) We are not having difficulty recruiting people to our jobs. It is maintaining the balance of some of the people who want to come and work for us who are currently working on pensions work. We cannot release them from that pensions processing work until we transfer that work into the pension centres. Some of them want to come across. They have been doing visiting officer work within the working age element of it and we have to keep that service going as we are moving them across. Some of these are just initial set-up difficulties that we are running into place.
  (Mr MacKinnon) The only area where we are having recruitment difficulties are the traditional areas of London and parts of the South East of England. That is one of the reasons why we are moving the contact centres and we have moved them out of London before, because we have difficulty in getting staff and keeping them. We are looking at how we can offer better terms and conditions to people for the local service in order to attract the right quality of people we need to do the work. The areas we are having actual recruitment problems are in the traditional areas, otherwise it is as Ms Cleveland has said.

  53. Which is always interesting and slightly tangential. We have in London higher unemployment than Scotland and Wales put together and an area of service which is supposed to be meeting the needs of the communities, and yet somehow it does not match up. I should very much hope that when you are looking at the direct service delivery area you will actually be very positively seeking to try to draw in to your employment members of those communities who are currently outside the labour market. Are you specifically looking at doing that?
  (Ms Cleveland) Certainly it is not just for the local service, it is across the whole of the organisation. We have been looking to draw people from as wide a scope as possible. I do not know whether you were exposed to any of this in Burnley, for example, but we were very disappointed with the ethnic mix of the first tranche of staff which came in because it is about seven per cent in the community in Burnley and we were well below that with the first tranche. If you look at Burnley now, we have over 12 per cent of our staff from ethnic backgrounds, which is in excess of the population there. We will probably be more successful there bringing people in from currently outside the labour market. A lot of the people who have applied to join us come from other areas with other contact centre experience.

  54. Just clarify for me. Are you only allowed to employ people who hold current Britain citizenship?
  (Ms Cleveland) Yes.

  Ms Buck: What was our figure?

Mr Dismore

  55. One in six Londoners are automatically excluded from the Civil Service.
  (Ms Cleveland) I think you have raised that as an issue before.

Ms Buck

  56. Is that something you are looking at?
  (Ms Cleveland) This is a wider Civil Service issue, but following the last Committee hearing when you raised that issue with me, we took it back to our HR people who are taking that back into the centre.

  57. What percentage of the local staff have been recruited?
  (Mr MacKinnon) I do not have that figure here. I can let you have that.[2]

  58. And give us perhaps an indication of regional variation within that as well. That would be very helpful.
  (Ms Cleveland) We will give it to you against plan.

  59. Can you just explain to me what are the criteria you are using to determine what pattern of local staff you will have under your direct service component of the new model? How are you going to determine how many there will be in Paddington and North Kensington and how many there are going to be in Hemel Hempstead? What will be the process in which you will say this is the model of service delivery we will have in a small market town, in a cluster of villages in a rural community, or in the inner city? How will you determine that staffing ratio?
  (Ms Cleveland) Some quite complicated modelling has gone into looking at that which takes into account the description of the area, whether it is inner city or whether it is actually a more remote area. In inner cities less travelling is involved than in remote areas. It also takes into account things like the ethnic mix, that we probably need more people if we have a very diverse ethnic mix. It is linked to the number of customers that we have in a particular geographic area and we are looking to exploit a fairly sophisticated geographic information system which our analytical service colleagues have developed, which means we can map onto a geographic area by post code where all our customers are.


2   Please refer to the supplementary memorandum from The Pension Service (PS02), para 2, Ev 21. Back

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