Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)|
14 JULY 2004
Q120 Chairman: Following on that point,
I note that in Merseyside it says more than 300 civil servants
are going to lose their jobs unless a new private employer can
be found to take them on. This is at the pension centre in Breckfield
which only opened in December 2002. 316 staff deal with inquiries
and claims for state pension, pension credit and winter fuel allowance.
That news comes just three months after the Lyons report recommended
that extra civil servant jobs should be moved from London to Liverpool.
Now we are told the search is on in Whitehall for a private company
to take on both the site and the staff. Does this not indicate
that the process is not as streamlined as we think? We could find
ourselves tripping over situations like this as we look for these
jobs to be cut. It does not augur well.
Mr Macpherson: It underlines the
need to coordinate some of these changes where you can. We have
set up a special brokerage unit in the cabinet office whose function
is going to be to ensure that, where one department is seeking
to reduce jobs and another is seeking to increase them or move
them, we can join this up.
Q121 Chairman: I am pointing here to
the fact that the DWP, which has the most ambitious target in
terms of job losses, opens up a brand new centre in December 2002
and then we lose jobs. That does not augur well if this department
is tripping over itself as much as it is at the moment.
Mr Macpherson: It is incumbent
on all public service managers and departments to try to manage
this process as sensibly as possible and it is incumbent on the
Treasury to create a medium-term framework against which they
Q122 Norman Lamb: It is staggeringly
incompetent to open a pension centre and close it two years later,
is it not?
Mr Macpherson: I do not
Q123 Chairman: You are not here to answer
Mr Macpherson: Exactly.
Q124 Chairman: At the end of the day,
that is the type of thing you do not want to read about and hear
about in the future. Is that right?
Mr Macpherson: Exactly. We want
this to be sensibly managed and sensitively managed.
Q125 Mr Walter: Mr Martin, you are head
of the spending review team. How have your funding arrangements
for Network Rail been accounted for?
Mr Martin: They have been accounted
for on the same basis as in the budget 2004 report and all previous
reporting. The future plans for spending on transport and railways
in detail are going to be announced in the House tomorrow by the
Secretary of State for Transport who will set out his plans through
to 2007-08. But if you are referring to the status of Network
Rail in the national accounts, that continues to be judged by
the ONS on the basis it was before. On the basis of that, the
position has not changed.
Q126 Mr Walter: The additional money
that has been required by the regulator in 2004-05 and 2006-06
is a total of £3.14 billion. Has that been included in the
Department of Transport's Departmental Expenditure Limit?
Mr Martin: A total budget has
been set for the Department of Transport for 2006-07 and 2007-08.
In addition, we have made an allocation from the reserve in 2005-06.
I do not have the figure here but I think that is £0.5 billion.
Within that overall envelope, the DfT are responsible through
the Strategic Rail Authority for paying the subsidy to Network
Rail. But the answer in short is: Yes, it has been taken account
Q127 Mr Walter: It is in their limit;
you are not expecting them to have to borrow it.
Mr Martin: I am sorry.
Q128 Mr Walter: You are not expecting
them to borrow it; the Department is going to provide this. You
have just mentioned £0.5 billion and I was talking about
just over £3 billion, how is the difference made up?
Mr Martin: The addition has been
made to the Department of Transport overall budget which covers
a range of areas, including railways' finance. It will be for
the Department to make its own decisions about allocations. If
you are talking about the borrowing of Network Rail, that is a
decision for that company (because it is a private sector company)
and its governing body. In terms of spending for that period going
forward, of 2006-07 and 2007-08, it is difficult to go much further
now until the Secretary of State has made his announcement tomorrow
Q129 Mr Walter: You are expecting Network
Rail to borrow this money in those two intervening years. There
is additional money in 2005-06, which of course is after the presumed
end of the economic cycle, so we are into a different period,
but I am talking about these intervening two years. How is that
money going to be provided?
Mr Martin: I did not say I was
expecting Network Rail to borrow. I do not know what Network Rail's
borrowing plans are at the moment or whether they will change.
Actually, the economic cycle concludes at the end of 2005-06,
so any spending in 2004-05 or 2005-06 which is contained and set
out in the plans in this document is within this current economic
cycle. For the purpose of measurement of a golden rule, if that
is what you are getting at, the spending plans set out here are
entirely reflected in the envelope that was set out in the budget.
Q130 Mr Walter: The money provided is
going to come after the economic cycle. We do not have provisions
in this economic cycle. In this economic cycle, these two financial
years we are talking about, you are expecting Network Rail to
borrow this money rather than receive it.
Mr Martin: No, I am not saying
that. There have been additions to the Department of Transport
budget both for 2005-06 (which is in this economic cycle) and
Q131 Mr Walter: But not specifically
for this purpose.
Mr Martin: There have been additions
to the overall budget of the Department of Transport reflecting
a range of pressures upon the Department of Transport, including
the need to finance Network Rail through the Strategic Rail Authority.
Q132 Mr Walter: Not specifically for
what the Rail Regulator said in March he knew.
Mr Martin: The position on funding
Network Rail remains as set out in the Government's response to
the Rail Regulator's interim report. The Government stands by
its commitments to fund fully the Strategic Rail Authority.
Q133 Mr Cousins: Do you have any idea
at all about staff turnover in the public services?
Mr Macpherson: I am afraid I do
not have a figure to hand but I could let the Committee have a
note on the subject
Q134 Mr Cousins: That would be very helpful.
If I may turn to under-spending on benefits. One in three of the
people entitled to pension credit, particularly the savings element
of pension credit, do not claim it. Half the single women over
the age of 75 do not claim council tax benefit. What assumptions
are you making about the continuation of under-claiming of state
Mr Macpherson: My recollection
of social security forecasting is that you do take a view on take-up
and that is reflected in the forecasts. Certainly with benefits
like pension credit it does take time to get people to take the
benefit up and the DWP is committed to ensuring that the people
who are entitled to it get it. My guess would beand it
is a guessthat the forecast will have a steadily rising
Q135 Mr Cousins: Could you let us know
about that, perhaps in written form?
Mr Martin: Yes.
Q136 Mr Cousins: You can see the perversity
of this: pension centre promoting pension credit up in Liverpool;
target to drive up take-up harder to achieve, presumably; but
all the money saved is not money spent and it all helps towards
the golden rule. You have a set of contradictions there.
Mr Macpherson: The Government
is very committed to addressing pensioner povertyas it
is child povertyand pension credit is a key part of that
Q137 Mr Cousins: Yes, those are rather
high level statements.
Mr Macpherson: They are but actually
making progress on take-up is very important. If you look at the
PSA document, target 6 on page 38 is " . . . by 2008 be paying
pension credit to at least 3.2 million pensioner households while
maintaining a focus on the most disadvantaged by ensuring that
at least 2.2 million of these households are in receipt of a guaranteed
credit." Here is a very public, high-profile target, and
if the DWP do not succeed in achieving it they need to be held
Q138 Mr Cousins: I do not want to be
unduly tedious or labour the point but that means that if that
target is achieved, half the people entitled to savings credit
will not be getting it.
Mr Macpherson: In a way pension
credit is not the Treasury's responsibility. I would be happy
to provide you with a note on what underlies that target and the
ambitions contained therein. But I take your point that take-up
is important. We have an interest in promoting it
Q139 Mr Cousins: To take the Chairman's
example of the pension centre closing in Liverpool, is there any
compensating factor in terms of regional spend to deal with the
consequences of that pension centre closing? Is there any device
Mr Macpherson: I think there are
a number of devices. First, I think regional considerations have
informed this spending review even more than previous spending
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