Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)


30 NOVEMBER 2005

  Q80  Jim Cousins: You look at unlocking it?

  Mr Lewis: We do it where children are terminally ill, which is entirely appropriate.

  Q81  Mr Mudie: Minister, I was just asking what happened to tokens?

  Mr Lewis: Sorry.

  Q82  Mr Mudie: In the original documentation there was a suggestion raised by the Inland Revenue that they would have tokens or additional payments. Grandmothers could buy a token rather than a book token so it would go straight in to the account and there would be no chance of the parents getting their fingers on the brass. Have you dropped the idea?

  Mr Lewis: As far as I know it is not happening.

  Q83  Mr Mudie: A note from the back.

  Mr Lewis: It is not happening.

  Q84  Mr Mudie: Which says?

  Mr Lewis: It says it is a matter for providers but it is not happening at the moment.

  Q85  Mr Mudie: But you were looking at it. The Inland Revenue were looking at it.

  Mr Lewis: It has not happened. Would you like us to look at it?

  Q86  Mr Mudie: Have you considered instead of spending this money on the advertising industry spending some of it with PCTs briefing district nurses, because I find district nurses are individuals who are guaranteed to meet parents after the newborn baby and if they were really in the picture—because they are very caring individuals, they are very worried about their parents, et cetera. Have you thought of that? The onus seems to be on education rather than getting the person who will actually speak to the parent in the weeks following the birth.

  Mr Lewis: Absolutely right. The Department of Health are one of our partner organisations for that very reason, as are our public services, as is Sure Start.

  Q87  Mr Mudie: That is an answer to the question. The question is have you done it? Are you briefing PCTs, are you seeking to brief district nurses for when they go into homes. If I speak to my district nurses they will be well briefed on it?

  Mr Lewis: They certainly are one of our partner organisations. I agree entirely with you that they should be and what I need to look at really is whether that is happening on a mainstream basis because I think you are right, but I suspect the answer is that it is patchy and in some areas it will be happening and in others it will not.

  Q88  Mr Mudie: It would be good to spend some of this £3.5 million briefing PCTs and district nurses?

  Mr Lewis: Yes.

  Q89  Kerry McCarthy: Going back to what you said about early release of funds for terminally ill children, I am intrigued, does that need a parent to question, I guess it is very early days yet, but what would be the mechanism for a parent being aware of their right to request early release of funds or will it be something done through health visitors and PCTs, as George [Mudie] mentioned?

  Mr Lewis: You would hope that the professionals working with the children in those circumstances would be aware that we are willing to make special arrangements in these cases. Again, if you are asking me in the real world will every professional working with a family who has a terminally ill child be aware of this, I suspect the answer is no.

  Q90  Kerry McCarthy: Or at least be aware that the child is terminally ill.

  Mr Lewis: It is on the web site but the parents of a terminally ill child are not likely to be looking through the web site.

  Chairman: We are going to have to suspend for ten minutes and resume at 15.42.

  The Committee suspended from 3.32 pm to 3.38 pm for a division in the House.

  Chairman: Let us resume. George Mudie?

  Q91  Mr Mudie: In April you will be allocating the accounts that have not been taken up and you are doing this on a rotational basis. One of the pieces of evidence we have had presented to us suggests that there are only 11 providers going to take something like 60,000 each. Has this method of distribution been thought out and do you stand by it?

  Mr Lewis: Yes.

  Q92  Mr Mudie: On what basis?

  Mr Lewis: I suppose the assessment has been done on deliverability. We have invited providers to join us specifically—and in terms of people who will end up in that category of course that remains to be seen because we are still a long way from the finishing line—but having done that we assess that the capacity is there to be able to do the job that we require them to do.

  Mr Wells: Can I add on that, we have regular discussions with each of the providers who will be taking those allocated accounts.

  Q93  Mr Mudie: You do agree there are only 11?

  Mr Wells: There are 11 at the present time but the number changes because there is scope for others to join. We have also had a dry-run with the allocated accounts for those children who are in care so we have had the opportunity this month to have a dry-run for this process, admittedly with smaller numbers, but we are talking to all providers again in light of that to make sure that we have all learnt from that experience.

  Q94  Mr Mudie: Just answer me this: these will be going into stakeholder accounts and stakeholder accounts are dealing in equities, for example, so they must all have different performances. Is there no due regard given to performance? If you simply do it on a rotational basis are you not opening yourself up to some person saying, "You have not taken care with this investment"? Certainly children in care might reasonably do this: "You have not taken care of my investment. You have just allocated it with no due regard to performance." After 18 years of you putting it with a bad provider rather than a good provider it could be a considerable amount of money. Have you given any consideration to that?

  Mr Lewis: Yes.

  Q95  Mr Mudie: Mr Wells looks puzzled. You have decided that that does not matter, Minister?

  Mr Lewis: I did not say that.

  Q96  Mr Mudie: Well, go on then.

  Mr Lewis: I think that before we are willing to enter into a relationship with the 11 that are there now there has to be a certain acceptance and understanding that they are up to the job otherwise we would not be entering into a relationship with them.

  Q97  Mr Mudie: You could put them with a tracker. Most fund managers are out-performed by a tracker. With 11 managers there will be a difference of performance. You are not bothering about performance; you are just doing it on a mathematical basis. "Here are 60,000 accounts to you and 60,000 accounts to you." What if I am put in with a bad manager whose performance is poor?

  Mr Lewis: If it reaches the stage where the default account has been established and then you decided you want to move the investment, then you can move it.

  Q98  Mr Mudie: No I cannot because I am a five year old or a six year old.

  Mr Lewis: The parent can.

  Q99  Mr Mudie: But you have taken the decision for me, you have put them with the provider.

  Mr Lewis: What is the alternative?

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