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23 Feb 2004 : Column 307W—continued

Casual Staff

Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many employees have been employed on 13-week casual appointments in Jobcentre and JobcentrePlus offices in (a) the United Kingdom and (b) each region in the last 12 months; and if he will make a statement; [152672]

Mr. Browne: The information is not available and can be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

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Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what functions are carried out by casual staff employed in offices in the South East Region; what training they receive; and what the cost of such training was in the last year for which figures are available. [151529]

Maria Eagle: The Department employs casual staff for a number of reasons, for example, to help manage peaks of work and to aid release of permanent staff for training and preparation for major business change. Information on the specific duties carried out by casual staff is not available.

The Learning and Development provided for casual staff varies according to the job role and work undertaken by the individual. For example, those dealing with customers receive training linked to serving customers, keeping safe, equal opportunities, data protection and interviewing skills. More informal training includes working with, and observing more experienced colleagues and coaching from subject experts and line managers. In addition, many new staff have a buddy or mentor.

Information on the cost of training for casual staff is not available.

Child Support Agency

Mr. Swire: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on reform of the Child Support Agency. [155348]

Mr. Pond: I refer the hon. Member to the written statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 12 February 2004, Official Report, columns 80–82WS.

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when existing Child Support Agency cases assessed under the old rules will be transferred to the new assessment system. [155910]

Mr. Pond: I refer the hon. Member to the written answer I gave the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) on 18 December 2003, Official Report, column 1092W.

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many people whose cases are in the hands of the Child Support Agency in (a) Angus constituency and (b) Scotland are due arrears of child maintenance; and how many have been due arrears for more than three months; [152544]

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Mr. Pond: The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Mr. Doug Smith. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Doug Smith to Mr. Michael Weir, dated 23 February 2004:

Departmental Relocation

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will make a statement on the factors which underlay decisions to (a) relocate work and (b) close his Department's offices in the South-East Region; [151631]

Mr. Browne: Jobcentre Plus and The Pension Service are modernising the services we provide to our customers. This modernisation is increasing the number of places where people can get information about work and benefits.

Jobcentre Plus is providing improved customer access through telephone contact centres, the internet and new, dedicated caller offices. The creation of new style Jobcentre Plus offices is providing customers with premises where they can make inquiries both about their benefits and about job opportunities in one place.

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The Pension Service has a network of pension centres, complemented by a local service delivered in partnership with local authorities and voluntary sector organisations. The Pension Service is meeting pensioners in their local communities, holding appointment and drop-in advice surgeries in places that they are familiar with, such as Age Concern and CAB outlets, local libraries and community centres.

The purpose of these plans was to provide all the Department's customers in Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isles of Wight; in the South East Region; and in the country as a whole with a modern and efficient service. These services are being targeted where people need them after consultation with local welfare agencies, local authorities, MPs and others. Where necessary duplication of sites is being reduced, helping to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money. Overall these plans are building on the high quality service already provided by social security offices and Jobcentres by delivering a service tailored to the specific needs of its customers.

In determining the location of the new Jobcentre Plus offices a great many factors are taken into account. These factors include, but are not limited to, the population size and spread, the quality, cost and availability of local transport, the distance between offices, concentrations of our key customer groups, areas designated for urban renewal or other regeneration initiatives, employers' needs, labour market characteristics, the availability of suitable office accommodation, the cost of maintenance and disposal, and the availability of staff and ability to relocate existing local staff. In some cases we have found that industrial and demographic change has left our offices situated in less than ideal locations. This modernisation programme provides an opportunity to critically review where we can best locate our offices to deliver services to meet the needs of the local community.

Disability Allowance

Mr. Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the cost of extending the entitlement to disability allowance and attendance allowance to 52 weeks for those claimants who are hospitalised. [155986]

Maria Eagle: Extending to 52 weeks the period during which disability living allowance and attendance allowance can be paid to hospital in-patients is estimated to cost in the region of £145 million a year at current rates. This figure includes the consequential costs in carer's allowance, pension credit and the income-related benefits.

Ethnic Minorities

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had with colleagues in the Department for Health to ensure fair treatment for older people from ethnic minority groups and their needs in terms of (a) income and (b) quality of life. [155810]

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Malcolm Wicks: Ministers have regular contact with colleagues in Department of Health to discuss the position of older people—this would include the fair treatment of minority groups such as ethnic minorities.

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