The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Alan Johnson): The DWP is committed to delivering a transformation programme that will provide ever more tailored services to its customers and increase productivity and efficiency for the taxpayer. Through investment in infrastructure and improvement to IT systems and business processes my Department will meet its efficiency challenge and reduce its workforce by 30,000 by 2008.
On the 29 June, my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Andrew Smith) gave an update to the House on the progress of this efficiency challenge, setting out the future size and shape of the Pension Service, Official Report, columns 89WS.
The chief executive designate of the new Tribunals Service, which will be an executive agency of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, has now confirmed that the Burnley site does not fit with their overall business strategy. It will therefore remain within the Pension Service and form part of the future improved pension centre network.
I can also announce that York pension centre will become the administrative centre for the financial assistance scheme, a new unit in my department. Existing staff in York pension centre will have the opportunity to apply for the new jobs created.
After full exploration of alternative uses for Liverpool all options have been exhausted, and the 12 month formal notice period to exit from the site has now begun. The vast majority of Liverpool pension centre staff have already found alternative employment or applied under the early release scheme. We expect the remaining staff to find other jobs without the need for compulsory redundancies.
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Work to move pensions work from the remaining sites is progressing well with the transfer of Derby and Plymouth pension centres to Jobcentre Plus and Child Support Agency respectively scheduled for completion in early 2005; pensions work beginning to move from Wolverhampton and Wrexham pension centres this month prior to their transfer to Jobcentre Plus; and detailed plans in place for migration of work away from the remaining three sites in Stockton, Nottingham, and Norwich (Baltic House) prior to their transfer to Jobcentre Plus.
Today I can announce plans for considerable investment to transform the Pension Service to deliver greater efficiencies, improved services for our customers, and more fulfilling jobs for our staff. This investment will be focused on those pension centres in:
Using a phased approach we will begin transformation activity now to plan to deliver our first improvements in three of these pension centres, Dundee, London pension centre (Newcastle) and Swansea with live running beginning from August 2005. Our customers using the transformed service will begin to see improvements in the speed of processing their claims to state pension. They will be able to make their claim to state pension in one phone call and at the end of it they will know their entitlement and when they will receive their payments. We will be delivering a faster, simpler and more efficient servicethe benefits of which will be felt by all our customers and staff.
Between 2006 and 2008 the transformed service will be rolled out to Burnley, Cwmbran, international pension centre (Newcastle), Leicester, Motherwell, National Pension Forecasting and Teleclaims Centre (Newcastle), Seaham, Stockport and Warrington. In choosing the pension centres from which to deliver our modernised and improved services we have undertaken a thorough analysis of the age, suitability and location of our buildings, the infrastructure, the local labour market and the value of the present running costs. The office network in 2008 will be equitably spread across Great Britain and we are retaining pension centres in England, Scotland and Wales.
Those pension centres not selected as transformation sitesBath, Birmingham, Blackpool, Dearne Valley, London Pension Centre (Glasgow), National Pension Centre (Newcastle), Norwich (Kingfisher) and Walsallwill continue to conduct Pension Service business over the next few years. They remain essential
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to the delivery of the high quality services our customers have come to expect whilst we transform the Pension Service. However, we will keep the situation under review and consider any transfer opportunities that arise.
The changes I am announcing today continue to move us towards our vision of the Pension Service of the future: improving customer service and ensuring that as many people as possible receive all the benefits to which they are entitled.
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Throughout the changes that we have made so far, we have met our commitment to redeploy people where their current job role has ceased to exist and since July 2004, over a thousand staff have found other opportunities elsewhere in my Department or in other Government Departments. Central to this process has been close working with our trade unions on seeking to avoid compulsory redundancies through redeployment and voluntary measures. We intend that this close working will remain central to our implementation of these latest changes.