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Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the time taking to issue new contracts to training providers of Government-funded Jobcentre Plus training programmes. 
Margaret Hodge: We are introducing new contracting procedures to reduce bureaucracy and improve performance. Bringing in these changes has been complex and we had to be sure that they delivered the outcomes we wanted.
New contracts will be in place from July 2006.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many calls to helplines dealing with claims for jobseeker's allowance (a) were received, (b) were handled, (c) received an engaged or busy tone and (d) were abandoned by the caller in each month since January 2004; and if he will make a statement. 
Margaret Hodge: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. She will write to the hon. Member.
Letter from Lesley Strathie, dated 30 January 2006:
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question concerning the calls to helplines for Jobseeker's Allowance, since January 2004. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
It may be helpful if I explain that Jobcentre Plus is introducing a new approach to claiming working age benefits where customers call a contact centre to establish their claim. This approach is being rolled out gradually across the country.
The information provided in this response relates to these rolled out areas only and covers the period from June 2004 when we started to collate information centrally.
|Calls answered||Calls abandoned(114)|
Your question also includes reference to engaged or busy lines. The telephony system used allows calls to enter into a queue without receiving an engaged or busy tone. If all operators are busy an appropriate message is placed on incoming calls and customers are placed in a queue.
Mr. Andrew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the total cost was of providing interviews, signing on and job referrals for jobseeker's allowance recipients in 200405. 
Margaret Hodge [holding answer 23 January 2006]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. She will write to my right hon. Friend.
Letter from Lesley Strathie, dated 30 January 2006:
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question concerning what the total cost was of providing interviews, signing on and job referrals for Jobseeker's Allowance recipients in 200405. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
The total cost of providing interviews, signing on and job referrals for Jobseeker's Allowance recipients is not available from our records. The information you require could only be obtained at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many medical examining centres there were in (a) 1997, (b) 2001 and (c) 2005; what plans there are to close any medical examining centres over the next five years; what assessment he has made of (i) average distances and (ii) furthest distances travelled by benefit claimants for medical assessments in each year; and what assistance is available for transport costs. 
In August 1997 there were 137 medical examination centres (MECs), in December 2001 there were 121, and in July 2005 there were 125. These figures relate to permanent sites. In addition medical services use up to 40 casual hire centres, which are used as and when required.
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Under plans agreed with the Secretary of State, the contractor (Atos Origin) is to close 11 MECs. However, three large regional centres are to be opened to service the areas affected by the MECs closures.
Information on actual distances travelled by benefit claimants is not collected. However, no customer is required to travel more than 90 minutes each way on public transport to attend a MEC. Where customers cannot get to an examination centre within 90 minutes using public transport, or where it is clear that they would have health-related difficulties in travelling, alternative arrangements are made.
All claimants who attend an appointment at a MEC are entitled to claim full reimbursement of pubic transport fares or where they have travelled by other means, such as by car, expenses can be claimed at set rates. Details of expenses which can be claimed are sent to the customer with their appointment documentation.
Mr. Redwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many national insurance numbers have been issued. 
Mr. Plaskitt: There are approximately 72 million national insurance numbers currently in issue. This exceeds current UK adult population because the total includes numbers retained for deceased people, for those in receipt of benefit living outside of the UK and for customers who are abroad.
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he expects to answer questions (a) 18786, (b) 18787, (c) 18634, (d) 18859, (e) 19631, (f) 20012, (g) 21436, (h) 21433, (i) 21437, (j) 21434, (k) 21441, (l) 21445, (m) 21444, (n) 21439, (o) 21442, (p) 21438, (q) 21452, (r) 21451, (s) 21586, (t) 21581, (u) 21582, (v) 21590, (w) 21857, (x) 21962, (y) 21957, (z) 21961, (aa) 24135, (bb) 21854, (cc) 21853, (dd) 21855, (ee) 23680, (ff) 23393, (gg) 24538, (hh) 24540, (ii) 24573, (jj) 24951, (kk) 28422, (ll) 28420, (mm) 28385, (nn) 29986, (oo) 30004, (pp) 30001, (qq) 29988, (rr) 30002, (ss) 30068, (tt) 30064, (uu) 30566, (vv) 29999, (ww) 30066, (xx) 30971, (yy) 31021, (zz) 31208, (aaa) 31196, (bbb) 32506, (ccc) 32505, (ddd) 32250, (eee) 32726, (fff) 33295, (ggg) 33701, (hhh) 33435, (iii) 34170, (jjj) 35360, (kkk) 35371, (lll) 35361, (mmm) 35364, (nnn) 35372, (ooo) 35373, (ppp) 35376, (qqq) 35395 and (rrr) 35359, tabled by the hon. Member for Yeovil. 
Mr. Plaskitt: My ministerial colleagues and I have replied to 28 of these 70 questions tabled by the hon. Member.
We attach importance to answering parliamentary questions promptly and will endeavour to respond to all questions within parliamentary deadlines where possible.
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Mr. David: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people on incapacity benefits in the Pathways to Work pilots have helped back into work since the initiative began. 
Margaret Hodge: There have been almost 150,000 people started on the Pathways to Work programme, including 11,200 existing customers. Nearly 80,000 people have attended mandatory work focused interviews. Of these, 17,670 people volunteered to take advantage of the Choices programme.
With our support, 19,500 people have entered employment, including 3,220 who volunteered to take part in the Pathways initiative. This has resulted in an 8 percentage point increase in people leaving incapacity benefits after six months in the Pathways areas compared to the rest of the country.
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