Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) (CS 1A)
In light of evidence presented at the Select
Committee hearing on the 2 July 2003 the Public and Commercial
Services Union (PCS) have been asked to supplement our original
PCS are concerned the impression was created
at the hearing that CSA staff were as significant a constraint
on the Agency's productivity as the problems with the IT system.
PCS totally disputes this. We were very disappointed to hear the
Chief Executive's comments about staff failing to adapt to a new
culture, which implied CSA staff were in part responsible for
current problems with IT. Until the new IT is working properly
it is very difficult for our members to provide a satisfactory
level of service. CSA staff did not design or develop the new
IT system. CSA staff did not design the inadequate training material
and do not control the volumes of cases. It is absolutely unjust
to blame CSA staff for the Agency's problems.
It cannot be underestimated just how low morale
is amongst CSA staff, and how pressurised life on a New Client
Team is at present. Incredible pressure is being placed on staff
by what many feel are unrealistic targets. Staff are being held
individually accountable for meeting these targets. They are made
to say how many cases they have cleared, and are likely to clear,
every day, and when they fail to achieve the target to give reasons
why. This is unacceptable pressure, bordering on bullying, for
such low paid staff. The result is high staff wastage rates and
increased sick absence (up 30% as of June 2003). Many middle managers
are complaining of similar pressure being placed on them by having
to justify the performance of their teams. The basic fact remain
that the IT problems are preventing staff from achieving the productivity
that is expected of them.
PCS believe that the Chief Executive understated
the problems with the new IT by describing them as just "early
teething problems". This shifts the blame onto the staff
rather than focusing on the real problem of IT. The thrust of
our original submission on the IT issues remains valid. The IT
is still not working properly. The Chief Executive admitted to
losses of productivity of up to 30% due to IT problems. He also
confirmed that due to problems with the IT there is no immediate
prospect of converting existing customers onto the new legislation.
These are major problems and go far beyond what could reasonably
be described as "teething problems".
PCS welcomed the Chief Executive's praise for
the phenomenal achievements of CSA staff in meeting targets, but
this public acknowledgement does not reflect the day-to-day treatment
frontline staff. The unremitting pressure to meet ever-increasing
targets is not conductive to creating a supportive working environment.
Staff are looking for clear assurances that
the necessary system improvements will take place and that the
pressure on them will ease as a result. Equally they want assurances
that the staffing reductions, proposed for 2003-04, will not happen.
With the problems the Agency is facing PCS believes it would be
disastrous to embark on staffing reductions at present. We therefore
hope and expect to see the change control request on staffing,
identified in the oral evidence, leading to more not less staff.
Having heard the Child Support Agency's evidence
at the hearing in July, it is clear that some of the detail contained
within the original PCS submission has been challenged by the
Agency. There appeared to be four main areas of disagreement,
which we will attempt to clarify here.
The first one concerned the slow
response times on the new IT system. PCS claimed it took "hours
rather than minutes at times" to move between screens on
the new IT system. The Agency challenged this view. PCS included
this complaint in our submission because it had been raised by
our members on many occasions since the IT went live in March.
The latest information suggests that this specific problem is
less bad then it was in the first few weeks of the new system.
It would be rare now for it to take over an hour to move from
one screen to another. However, the general point about the failings
of the IT system, and the problems associated with slow response
times, remain valid. The Chief Executive confirmed in his oral
evidence on 2 July that the Agency was losing 25 to 30% productivity
due to slow response times. This is still a major issue and is
adversely affecting our members' ability to do the job.
The Agency also denied our assertion
that the IT system was designed to have cases handled by several
different caseworkers as they were progressed. PCS accept that
the system is "designed" to allocate cases to one caseworker.
However the point we were making is that, whatever the design
of the system, the practice is that the IT system does frequently
move cases from caseworker to caseworker, outside the control
of staff, for no apparent reason. It was therefore a mistake on
our part to include the word "designed" in our original
submissions, but the point we were making remains valid.
There was also concern over the large
fall in new cases that were coming over from Job Centre Plus.
At the time of writing our submission PCS looked at the number
of new cases the Agency was receiving compared to the same time
last year. It seemed to us that the large drop in intake was a
result of a backlog of cases in Job Centre Plus and well-documented
problems with the Job Centre Plus interface. This also fitted
in with anecdotal evidence we were receiving from colleagues in
Job Centre Plus that CSA cases were being treated as low priority
in some areas. However CSA management have access to large quantities
of management information from both CSA and Job Centre Plus which
PCS do not. As a result we can accept the explanation for the
drop in intake that was provided by CSA to the Select Committee.
One final point of accuracy concerns
the issue of low pay. PCS stated that the majority of CSA staff
are paid less than £13,000 per year. CSA said that the actual
figure was actually £12,500 per year. PCS accept management's
figures are accurate. But this serves to demonstrate how badly
paid most CSA staff are for the very difficult and pressurised
job that they are asked to perform. PCS welcomes the assurances
from the Chief Executive about reviewing the pay and grading of
CSA staff and we intend to work in partnership with them to secure
a satisfactory outcome. However we strongly believe that the problems
of low pay and the related problems of high staff wastage will
only be solved by paying CSA staff a substantial increase in basic
PCS welcomes the financial penalties being imposed
on EDS for their failure to deliver an adequate computer system,
and realise that much of this money will be used to help improve
productivity within the Agency. However we also feel that at least
some of this saved money could be spent on extra pay for our members
who have had to suffer the consequences of the failings of EDS.
We also welcome the Select Committee's decision to investigate
IT across the Department for Work and Pensions and would seek
to contribute to that investigation.
On the issue of performance, PCS agree that
CSA's performance between now and March 2004 needs to be monitored
to see if the Agency's prediction that productivity will outstretch
intake becomes reality. PCS is sceptical that the Agency's performance
will improve to this level in one year. We are concerned that
currently the only way to achieve this would be by demanding even
higher targets from staff who are already close to breaking point.
Only time will tell whether CSA will meet the
bold predictions of the Chief Executive regarding productivity,
but if this push for increased productivity places even further
pressure and stress on PCS members, without the long-promised
improvements in the IT system, we remain very sceptical that they
can be achieved.
8 August 2003