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Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that many of these changes seem to be a result not of planning but of events? For example, as the crisis in the Child Support Agency appears to increase, more people have been put into jobs to deal with it, and cuts are having to be made elsewhere; in my hon. Friend's constituency, for example.
Mr. Wallace: That is absolutely true. The Gershon review of manning levels is driven not only by financial pressure, efficiency savings and service reconfiguration, but by events. As we have seen, the disastrous CSA is now taking up the headlines and often, therefore, the job redeployment, at the expense of another part of the Department for Work and Pensions.
The way in which people are shuffled around the different agencies shows that the Department does not seem to have a grip on the problem. I mentioned earlier that the off-site and on-site redeployment sounded farcical, but it has happened to dozens of my constituents. I am sad to report that, tomorrow, it will be made public that a further 77 employees have been told that they are surplus to requirements. Many of them have already been juggled between one agency to another. That is hardly the way to handle change management, in either the public sector or the private sector. It is certainly not the way to treat civil servants
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who have served the Department well, and who have handled many changes under this Government and the previous Conservative Government. The Government owe them a duty to ensure that this change is managed.
My last visit to the Norcross site was quite disturbing. The morale of the work force is extremely low and people do not know their future or what is around the corner. Indeed, many of the senior management are a long way off site. For example, the director of human resources is based in Sheffield. All those agencies feel left out and certainly do not feel that they are being communicated to properly.
I hope that the Minister can give us some clear answers tonight and set out a strategy. While she might not have the full detail at her fingertips, I hope that she takes on board the concerns that the work force on the front line have expressed to me, and indeed to my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble). I have said that she can contribute to the debate, because it is my view that as long as the cross-party consensus is there to communicate to the Minister the real feeling of the grass roots, she might take some swift and clear action.
The Gershon review in 2004 embarked on a strong and clear strategy at high level to reduce the massive number of civil servants, some of whom have been employed since 1997, and to improve efficiency. I am not here to debate the rights and wrongs of the Gershon review or to say whether there should be cuts, but I am here to ask the Minister to ensure that those cuts and those changes are properly managed and that the strategy is communicated to everyone on the ground.
I would like the Minister to communicate those changes because the axe fell significantly heavily on the Department for Work and Pensions, where the target is a 30,000 reduction in personnel. After the last two years, the Government have made headline figuresreducing Jobcentre Plus and reducing the Pension Servicebut little detail has been communicated either to us in the House or to the work force. I hope there is some element of correction tonight.
It is important that the Minister takes on board the low morale of the work force and the fact that they do not really know what is happening. It was sad that the Public and Commercial Services Union had to resort to a 48-hour strike last week. That came not out of greed or a desire for better pay and conditions, but out of a desire for some pay and conditions and for better communication to them. I have to say that I supported members of the union at the Norcross site in that action, if only because it was a cry for help. I hope that they get some answers and are able to sleep better in their beds.
The problem with the Gershon review, and indeed the changes, is that the drive for savings and reconfiguration has outpaced the plan for efficiency. Therefore, the cart has been put before the horse. Each agency, according to different timetables and different directorates, is putting in place its view. At the same time, the employees are trying to keep pace with the changes.
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I have only to point to the evidence given to the Work and Pensions Committee by Ms Strathie, the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus. She explained that the call centre debacle in the summerabout 90 per cent. of customers could not get an answerwas due to the muddle between trained and temporary staff, staff off sick and redeployed staff, which affected the delivery of the service. We need to communicate the fact that if such changes are not properly made, planned in advance and communicated, there will be a hotch-potch of trained and experienced staff, as well as a pot-luck effect, that inevitably have a knock-on effect on the service received by my constituents and the whole UK. Therefore, it is vital that that be done.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate him on securing the debate. We all know what a trusty champion he is of his constituents and their interests. I pay tribute to the DWP staff on the Fylde coast. I have dealt with the disability and careers service on behalf of my constituents. It returned my call and replied to my letters. I am sad to hear that there is such distress at the proposed changes.
Mr. Wallace: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which shows that people who treat others well deserve to be treated well themselves. The Government have a duty of care to ensure that those people's valued service is rewarded, at least with clear strategy and communication.
In closing, I ask that the Minister answer me at least three questions clearly and perhaps give me some undertaking. First, will she say whether the Department is considering offshoring any of the jobs or services currently being carried out by civil servants on the Fylde coast? There have been media reports to that effect, and she would go a long way towards setting people's minds at rest if she were to rule that out.
Secondly, will the Minister review the management process with the director of human resources, or whomever is appropriate, to ensure that employees on the Fylde coast, right down to the front line, understand what is in store and do not have to be faced with surprises every few weeks?
Finally, will the Minister meet me or come with me to her site at Norcross and speak to the workers on the front line to understand their fears and concerns, so that we all know the future of Department for Work and Pensions jobs on the Fylde coast, that the service is delivered efficiently to my constituents as a priority, and that employees of her Department are given the due care, attention and communication that they deserve?
Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) on securing this important debate, which concerns my constituents and his. I also thank him and the Minister for their kindness in allowing me to contribute.
Until recently, the Fylde coast had about 10,000 civil service jobs, which local people took pride in doing, whether they were in the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health or the Veterans
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Agency, as Norcross is now the headquarters for war pensions administration. The Department for Work and Pensions is the principal employer. My constituents and those of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre take their jobs seriously. They do important work, helping often vulnerable and disadvantaged people get the benefits that they need and deserve. That job is important to them, to our local economy and to Members throughout the country.
As has been said, Warbreck house in my constituency is the national headquarters for the disability living allowance and provides the national helpline. I visit it on a regular basis and sit alongside the staff manning that helpline who take calls from all over the country and deal with and help people who are often distressed. Now, however, they must face uncertainty about whether they will have a job next week, next month, next year or in two years' time. They need to be part of the process of considering how the Department for Work and Pensions undertakes the job cuts required of it. Everybody, at every level, needs to be part of that discussion. Terry Moran, the chief executive of the Disability and Carers Service, is doing a good job trying to explain to staff who work at Warbreck house exactly what is required of them.
Warbreck house has already had about 700 job cuts, but I have been assured in private as the local Member of Parliament and as a member of the Work and Pensions Committee that it will have no further head count reduction. In fact, Warbreck house has seen a transfer in of jobs from Sutton. We might be losing out under Gershon, but we are gaining under Lyons. Given the expertise of those on the Fylde coast who work for the civil service, surely if jobs are to be relocated, they should be relocated to Norcross, Warbreck house and the other establishments whose staff enjoy working for the civil service and the Department for Work and Pensions and do a very good job for it. I therefore hope that, as some jobs are lost and as new information technology systems and methods of working are introduced, the Minister will consider the opportunities for redeployment in those offices.
Constituents of mine who work at Mexford house, which is part of the Pension Service, have recently raised concerns with me. Again, the irony is that jobs have been transferred from outsidein this case, I think, from Wrexhamto Mexford house. Again, we have well-trained staff doing a very good job; reassuring pensioners, explaining how they can claim pension credit, offering them advice and dealing with their problems. They are now wondering whether they will still be doing that job in two years' time.
I know that the Minister cannot give us all the answers. She cannot tell me now that all my constituents' jobs will be there in two years' time. I ask her, however, to consider the managerial process for administering the period of change. Because of the uncertainty and the impact on staff morale to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that process must be managed very carefully. The staff must be part of the process, and so must the Public and Commercial Services Union. I too have regular meetings with the union, and I advise the hon. Gentlemanmy neighbourto meet its representatives. They find it difficult to negotiate on behalf of their members, because at Norcross in particular there are so many different units on the site
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with no coherent overall management. When the union is trying to advise its members on opportunities for redeployment on the Fylde coast, it is not always easy to establish with whom they should be liaising. In the case of a complex site like Norcross, it is important for the DWP to advise the local union and staff on whom they should be talking to, in order to minimise the uncertainty.
I shall not say a great deal more, because I want to hear what the Minister has to say. Let me make two more points, however. Blackpool council also takes the matter seriously, and at a recent meeting passed a resolution expressing its concern about civil service job losses. The council is trying to revitalise the town with large amounts of investment. There are hopes of regeneration, and of new jobs. Given the importance of civil service jobs and of DWP jobs in particular, the council wants some reassurances.
My final message to the Minister is that the staff who work for the DWP in my constituency and that of my neighbour are not cardboard cut-out bowler-hatted gentlemen; they are ordinary, decent, hard-working people. They are my constituents, and my neighbour's constituents. They want the Minister to listen, and they want to go on doing their job. They do an excellent job. I hope that the Minister will compliment them on their hard work in this vital area, that she will listen to their genuine concerns, that she will consult them, and that she will ensure that the management liaise with them and offer them reassurance to raise their morale, so that they can do their job even better than they are doing it now.
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