Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 241 - 259)



  Chairman: Good morning. I am sorry our first session overran, but we do really want to hear what you have to say so we are going to crack straight on.

  Q241  Mark Pritchard: Employment strategy. We hear a lot about it. Is there any way you can try and encapsulate what you think the Government's employment strategy is in a short phrase?

  Mr Wylie: Our view at PCS is that we think that Jobcentre Plus are having a significant impact on helping the Government towards their employment targets, but we need to put that in the context of the backdrop of what is going on in Jobcentre Plus at the moment where, over the past couple of years, the Government have cut 20,000 jobs out of DWP as a whole. The vast bulk of those jobs have gone from Jobcentre Plus. Many of those jobs that have been lost are employment advisers who play a fundamental role in ensuring that the Government are reaching their targets on employment figures, and so I think the picture that we would like to paint is one of Jobcentre Plus doing the very best it can in very difficult circumstances with hundreds offices either closed or earmarked for closure. The Government's latest figures are 577 offices. Many of those buildings will be former job centres where we provide a very good local service to communities. Of course, the numbers of advisers going down means that the amount of time each adviser has to spend with an unemployed person has been reduced, and we have had stories this week from some of our adviser members that times are being reduced to 10 minutes for a BSE interview, but that is clearly not enough time to assess somebody's needs, to assess what their requirements are to get them back into work, to judge how much training they will need or what is the most appropriate way of getting them off benefits.

  Q242  Mark Pritchard: I do have some sympathy with that. We can all agree, I would hope, on efficiency being sought in every organisation being a good thing. Nevertheless, there does seem to have been a figure plucked out of the air that we need to cut back and it does not seem to correlate necessarily with where unemployment is seen as a spike or an upturn. Do you think that the Department for Work and Pensions in relation to Jobcentre Plus should be perhaps looking at it more intelligently and saying: where do we predict and project certain unemployment spikes and, therefore, we will only take away those Jobcentre Pluses where unemployment is going down?

  Mr Wylie: Yes, we do, but we are finding it is a relatively arbitrary approach, not just to the job cuts but to the losses across the whole of DWP and Jobcentre Plus in particular. We find ourselves in a position where not only is there a distinct possibility in Jobcentre Plus of compulsory redundancies, which would be the first time in my memory that that had been necessary, but we are also seeing the estate being managed by the private sector and more consideration being given to which buildings can be closed to save money rather than which buildings can be kept open to provide a better quality of local service.

  Q243  Mark Pritchard: Ms Parry, I wonder whether you can comment on something in relation to youth unemployment within the overall government strategy. Do you think, even though the Government's intention is a good intention, that the unintended consequence of that good intention vis-a"-vis getting more people to stay on and work later on in life might be actually, down the line, taking the time of youth unemployment, coupled with, of course, more people in the public sector being asked to retire at a later age. So, at the upper age scale you have got more opportunity, some wanting to do it, some not wanting to, and, as a result, not so many people leaving the employment market place and, therefore, young people trying to access the employment market place, perhaps finding it more difficult than they have for generations?

  Ms Parry: I think this, in essence, a skills question, is it not? We have a situation where we are talking about getting a million odd extra people into work, but they must have the right skills. If we have young people coming out of school at whatever age, whether that is 16, 18 or even older, with the right skills that the skills sectors are requiring, then we will fill those skills gaps. I do not think the age of the people who fill those jobs is a relevant factor.

  Mr Hoyle: Can I perhaps the comment on both those questions. I agree. I think it is a skills question, as you are relating it to youth, but I think that is actually quite important to your first question on the employment strategy overall, because I do think, as we heard from Dave Simmonds earlier on, we are going into a new phase and at the moment Jobcentre Plus, DWP have a strategy of getting people into work—jobs first, I understand that—but the jobs that most of the non-employed are capable of doing at the moment, if they are capable of doing any of them, are low skilled. That is not all, but most of them. So, we have got a real almost arithmetical problem hitting us here. The jobs that Jobcentre Plus wish to put them into and then get them trained on, because that is their strategy (using Train to Gain), cannot work because the first open door of jobs at a low-skilled level is fast disappearing, they will not be there, and I think the strategy has to be reversed if we are going to get a million people who are currently not in work back into the labour market, a labour market that needs them but which they are not skilled for. You would have to skill them up first and then move them into the labour market with the skills that the employers want. It comes back to some of the conversations you were having earlier on about the employer input. We need to know what employers want in a changing labour market, we need to make sure that the non-employed have the basic skills to do that, and then you can carry on afterwards. That is a complete reversal of where Jobcentre Plus currently go where they are saying: "Find them a job and, if necessary, we will train them up later on through LSC monies." I believe that cannot work.

  Q244  Mark Pritchard: I concur with many of those concerns. We touched earlier today on immigration. Do you think there is potentially a conflict for those who are coming in who have the skills that the indigenous population do not have and, therefore, are attractive to employers because, clearly, there is no cost for the employer upskilling and there is no loss of time in that upskilling process timetable?

  Mr Hoyle: I think that underpins the point I am trying to make. Employers need skills and they will go to any market that produces those skills. If it happens to be immigrant labour who have the skills, they will take them on. I do not think that the cost of that labour is the major factor, it is the availability of that labour, and what we are saying here is that if we have a million of the indigenous population that we wish to get back into the labour market (and I believe that is, quite correctly, and absolutely top priority), then clearly we have to make sure that they have got the skills to make themselves marketable within that market. I just think at the present time the current policy is not focused on that. I believe quite strongly there needs to be a redefining of the role of Jobcentre Plus, who find people work, and the role of the Learning and Skills Council, who train people for work, and I do not think those two things are aligned properly at the present time.

  Q245  Mark Pritchard: On this whole issue of joined up government and strategy, we are all, hopefully, batting for the same side in getting those people back to work, whatever our party. It is in the national interest and in their interests that we do so. I just wondered, following on from our last session, how this strategy is brought about at a local level, at micro level—how it is formulated, how it is implemented, et cetera. Do you think there is an argument for having a statutory requirement by counties or by local authority areas to actually have an employment strategy that it sends up to DWP but has, within that strategy, key stakeholders, such as a schools' board, as we heard about earlier, such as the local Chamber of Commerce, and so on and so forth, because at the moment it seems very patchy? Yes, people are feeding back to the DWP people, but there does not seem to be any statutory requirement to do so, and I think that would help the centre of government, whoever that might be, understand what is going on perhaps more easily but also allow local authorities, who perhaps are best placed to understand what is going on locally, to take the lead in co-ordinating that effort.

  Mr Hoyle: I would have thought, through regional development agencies and, indeed, through the Learning and Skills Council and local authorities, there are probably the mechanisms to do that now. To make sure it is done I think is important. Statutory can be rather inflexible, but I certainly would not want to see a statutory requirement to produce a strategy in a very fixed predetermined way. That seems to me to be quite wrong. If you are talking about the need to make sure it is done properly, I think I would agree with that, but I would still want to see localities with considerable freedom to work out what that strategy should be on a local basis if that tries to combine the two things.

  Ms Parry: The key issue, surely, is the connectivity between DWP and the Learning and Skills Council. The only minor issue I would take with Graham is that we would see employability upskilling being important before people get into jobs but also as they get into jobs. So, it is absolutely critical. It came out in the Harker Report, which came out a couple of weeks ago, that people need skilling within work, and we are sure that we could engage more effectively with employers if they knew they were taking on people with whom they were going to have training packages so that people were passported at entry and Level 1 as well as Level 2 Train to Gain, which we applaud. Train to Gain is a fantastic programme, we would agree, but we have to look at the entry level and the Level work entrants as well.

  Mr Wylie: We support the idea of joining up the Learning and Skills Councils and Jobcentre Plus and ensuring that a one-stop shop, even service is provided at a local level. Jobcentre Plus, we believe, are particularly good at being flexible in providing those services. There was recently a project called the Ambition Programme which involved attempts to upskill particularly lone parent in relatively low paid jobs and to try to improve their opportunities for improving their earnings, and there was an initiative (I think it was in Liverpool) where Jobcentre Plus worked closely with the gas industry training board to provide training for lone parents to become gas fitters, because it is a relatively well paid job and it is something you can do at pretty much any time of the day. You can drop your kids off at school, fit a boiler and go and pick your kids off from school at the end of it. We think that sort of initiative is the sort of thing we should be working towards and what Jobcentre Plus should be doing more of rather than centralising their service that they provide.

  Ms Parry: We do have examples of extremely good practice, joined-up thinking between Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council. I work predominantly in the East Midlands where there is very close working and very innovative practice, but that is not necessarily cascaded or shared across the country, and that seems to be a great shame to us.

  Q246  Natascha Engel: It is a bit of a loaded question, but what do you think that the private and voluntary sector can offer that Jobcentre Plus cannot? Do you think that there is anything that the private and voluntary sector can offer that Jobcentre Plus cannot?

  Ms Parry: We feel that what we can do is engage at grass roots with the individual clients, customers, and engage with them for as long as it takes. Keith has pointed out the problematic situation they have with only 10-minute interviews with clients. Some of our clients are a long, long way from (and Keith will agree with me on this, I know), they have a big distance to travel to work, and so our engagement has to be for as long as it takes, and that is where the PVS approach would be, and we will talk, no doubt later, about what the contracting will look like. We want to have the opportunity to work for as long as it takes with those customers who need that.

  Mr Hoyle: Representing 450 private voluntary and independent providers, you can anticipate my answer. I think they are playing a major part, both on the learning side, but particularly on the Jobcentre Plus side as well now, and I think they bring focus, single-mindedness as well as real contact within localities. One of the problems you have within Jobcentre Plus, and we heard this listening to your debate earlier on, was the range of things that they have to do. The staff in there are invariably often very, very good. Have they got the time and the focus to follow the job through? I think, with the cuts that have been imposed on Jobcentre Plus over the last couple of years, that clearly is difficult. I have no doubt that the independent sector, to use an inclusive term, if I may, can actually bring skills, does bring skills, brings focus and actually, therefore, can have the time to focus on the exact end product. I think there are too many other things which are required from within the Civil Service structure just now.

  Mr Wylie: I want to start by saying that we agree that the voluntary sector brings significant benefits to the work that is being done around reducing unemployment and we are solidly in favour of a partnership between Jobcentre Plus, between the services provided by the Government and the voluntary sector. We accept that there are some services that essentially must be provided by the voluntary sector and, in some cases, the private sector as well. We have two concerns. The first position that we have is that the adviser function, the role of both employment adviser and financial adviser, and the decisions on the benefit are essentially, in our view, state provision and they should be provided by servants of the state, by civil servants, by Jobcentre Plus staff and any move to break up Jobcentre Plus and to have those services provided by the private sector would be a grave mistake. The other concern that we have is that there has now become almost a blurring of the definition between the voluntary and the private sector and organisations like ERSA, one-third of whose members are publicly made companies, private sector organisations. Those organisations have a different motivation to the voluntary sector organisations that Graham has just referred to and to the other third sector organisations. Our major concern is that organisations like Action for Employment, like Reid, like the Assured Trust are interested in taking large chunks of Jobcentre Plus work, taking over the adviser roles that our members provide and effectively privatising work that we believe should remain in the public sector.

  Q247  Natascha Engel: That leads on to the next question, which is about the cherry picking issue. How can DWP, do you think, best ensure that the private and voluntary sector organisations do not cherry pick those people who are closest to the labour market already and neglect those people who are harder to reach?

  Mr Hoyle: I think that is a danger which should be avoided, but I think the answer comes back, in a sense, to some of the things—. If we take a very high level, what is the role of Jobcentre Plus, and take complete roles and complete responsibilities and either do them in-house within Jobcentre Plus or, indeed, do them via a contract outside, I think it has got to be a whole block of work. I totally agree that the payment of benefits and eligibility for benefits and that kind of monitoring should be kept within the Civil Service. The links with Parliament and votes and regulations are absolutely crystal clear. I personally, having worked 20 years in the employment service and benefit service, would not risk that outside even to my members. I do not think they would want it. However, if you move on to the other thing, that you have employability training, you have skills training and you have job finding, those are three big chunks of work, all of which are capable of being done in their entirety by the independent sector, and what you should not start doing is cherry picking between the three so bits of the three go out and the rest are there to be picked up. You actually put them in or you keep them out.

  Q248  Natascha Engel: How does DWP ensure that that happens, that it is more holistic?

  Mr Hoyle: That is down to procurement policy and contract management and monitoring. If you are purchasing anything from anybody, you have a responsibility to make sure that they deliver what it is that you wish to buy, so that becomes a real responsibility of DWP and Jobcentre Plus to make sure that any outsourced service is delivered to the quality and the quantity and the standard that they set.

  Ms Parry: A system of payment differentials that targeted a provider to inreach to the market would probably be the most satisfactory approach to this. A proportion of their engagement had to be with the 20% hardest to reach, but the contract would have to be written on that basis.

  Mr Wylie: One of the problems is trying to ensure that there is not cherry picking. We know that there is evidence in the past in some parts of the country and some contracts where we the private sector, because of the targets that were set for them as part of their contract, were fast-tracking the easier clients to push the numbers up so that they met their targets and so that they got the financial reward at the end of it. The only way round that is by a rigid, strict regime of monitoring these contracts. One of our main concerns is that DWP have just centralised their procurement division into the department and away from the agencies like Jobcentre Plus, but our view is that the procurement and the monitoring of projects should be as low level and as local as possible because it is the people on the frontline who know when contracts are not being carried out properly, when cherry picking is going on and when the system is being misused.

  Ms Parry: I think, if a contract is targeted to reach a particular portion of the hardest to reach, your concern will not arise, and it will ensure that the independent sector works with specialist organisations, those organisations that maybe are a little fearful that they will no longer exist, because that would be a specialism that the private and voluntary sector providers will require, so I do not support that concern. You would not expect me to, I suppose.

  Chairman: So we understand, and with respect, you are here to give evidence, not to have a debate amongst yourselves. I understand the debate, but in the end we are just taking evidence.

  Q249  Natascha Engel: My next question is about the greater flexibility that is offered to the private and voluntary sector. I was wondering how the three of you rate the success or otherwise of Employment Zones and whether you think that that is a direct result of the greater flexibility that the private and voluntary sector has over what Jobcentre Plus has. Do you want to start, Keith?

  Mr Wylie: Yes. There is greater flexibility for Employment Zones, but, despite that, we do not think there is a mass of evidence that Employment Zones are performing better than, for instance, our Action Teams. In our submission we provided evidence, I think it was a DWP survey, which showed that the Action Teams were actually exceeding their job personal targets and the Employment Zones were not. The difficulty we have is that when we are being compared to the private sector we are not comparing like with like. Whilst the Employment Zones in the private sector have got the increased flexibility and the additional resources to deliver the targets that they set, our members are constrained and restricted by all of the Civil Service codes and the restrictions that Jobcentre Plus place on us. At the same time as our action teams, for instance, in Hartlepool were winning awards for being innovative and were winning major public service awards, the Department are now closing them down. The action teams are being abandoned and replaced with an alternative scheme. I think it is very difficult for our members to compete when, as someone said earlier in the contribution this morning, their hands are tied and they are restricted much more significantly than the private sector competition is. I think if our members were given the same amount of resources, the same amount of flexibility as the private sector, we would, quite bluntly, outperform them every time.

  Mr Hoyle: I have some sympathy with that. I think it comes back to the fact that within the Civil Service, within the public sector, there are always other expectations and requirements that are put on the civil servants, it is just a fact of life, and therefore direct comparisons are very, very difficult and often unfair. I think it points far more to deciding which way you are going to go and letting one sector or the other have real focus, have the proper resource and do it properly. I personally would say that the dangers of the public sector and the Civil Service still being infected by lots of other things that they have to do anyway probably means that I would go: "Let us get some really qualified independent providers with a proven track record to do it." My big worry, however, is not trying to differentiate between the success of Employment Zones at the moment. I am sorry to repeat myself, I am just very, very worried that they may well be very successful today; I do not think they are going to be successful tomorrow. They are all geared up to preparing people and getting them into work at a comparatively low level, for the most part, and it really worries me in the next decade that the openings for low level work—. Lord Leitch is going to be reporting next month. I would be amazed if he does not say this very strongly. His interim report made it quite clear and predicted a massive reduction in low level and unskilled work. If that opening is not there, you have to have a different strategy for the 2.7 million people who currently are not working and may want to get back into the labour market.

  Ms Parry: This whole issue about whether or not Employment Zones have performed or not, we obviously believe they do and they have performed well, it does support the ongoing urgent need for the DWP to commission an authoritative evidence collection and to circulate that evidence. I have said it before, and no doubt I will say it again, but we really must build upon good practice and if we do not have the basic data we have not got a foothold.

  Q250  Natascha Engel: Work-focused interviews at the moment are being carried out by Jobcentre Plus, but it looks like DWP's ultimate aim is to hand that over to the private and voluntary sector. Do you think that is a good idea. Keith?

  Mr Wylie: Unsurprisingly, no, we do not. It is a core function, is it not, the Work-focused Interview, and it needs to be done by somebody who is impartial, who has not been driven by targets, who has been driven by the motivation to get an individual into work and, if they cannot get that individual into work, to ensure that they are claiming the benefit that they are entitled to and no more and no less than the benefit they are entitled to. The important thing for that role is the impartiality that the Civil Service brings with it. Hopefully our members would not feel under pressure to put people into inappropriate jobs because their company needed to make a profit. In order to retain that impartiality and that professionalism that work should remain within the public sector.

  Mr Hoyle: I was trained to do Work-focused Interviews in 1964, we called them review interviews at that stage. I think there is a critical issue here about where that function fits. Is that really part of the public sector Jobcentre Plus service or not? I think, interestingly, we are now experimenting with the independent sector doing them, and I have not got any data as to whether they have done well or not. I think they are going to be perfectly capable of doing them. I think it is an interesting step in the debate of whether you are actually going to privatise the employment service or not. It has always (and I talk from personal experience) been an integral part of a national employment service in finding people work, and I think to start separating that out actually is a massive step towards privatisation. I personally would not resist it, I have not got enough data to say whether it is working or not, but I would say it is not just a small technical issue about whether they are being done better here or there, I think it is core as to what you want to do with the public employment service over the next few years.

  Ms Parry: Our take on this would be that we think that involvement in the first WFI would strengthen the provider's relationship with the clients and we think it would also enable the DWP to really test what impact we would have from day one and the real distance travelled for each of our client customers.

  Q251  Chairman: Who decides which provider the claimant goes to? If you are willing to provide the initial Work-focused Interview, who decides which organisation they are sent to?

  Ms Parry: It depends if you are talking about—.

  Chairman: I will let you ponder upon that.

  Q252  Natascha Engel: Going even more contemptuously into this, there is stuff in the Welfare Reform Bill about devolving decision-making powers down to private and voluntary sector organisations or independent sector organisations. It has been very thorny on the Committee because the power to impose sanctions chiefly has been the most contentious issue. Do you think that is a good idea or a bad idea? I suspect I know what you are going to say, but specifically what impact do you think that will have on the trust relationship that is built up between an adviser and a claimant? Do you want to start with that, Frances?

  Ms Parry: This all really comes down to the ultimate role that we perceive for Jobcentre Plus. We see it as being a neutral gateway to benefits and services. We would rather adopt the situation we have, I believe, in Employment Zones where, if there is a sanctions issue, we collect the evidence and the evidence is passed to Jobcentre Plus to make a decision about the benefits. This comes back to Graham's point about where the dividing line is. What is a benefit and what is an employability provision?

  Q253  Natascha Engel: Would you, as a representative of the private and voluntary sector, welcome the power? You would not necessarily have to use it, but would you welcome the fact that you would have the power to impose sanctions or not? Would you have issues with it?

  Ms Parry: No, I do not think there would be issues with it, it would be something that we would work around, but I really would have to take some advice on my response to that. May I come back with a response?

  Q254  Natascha Engel: Yes.

  Mr Hoyle: I would be reluctant. Even with my high-level division of four functions, I would put this in the first one. I think that the payment of benefits, the monitoring of payments, the eligibility and so on, is clearly in that block as far as I am concerned. That is not to say that other people cannot develop the skills to do it, but I actually think the positioning is important. I do think there are dangers as well for the training provider or the employment provider on the trust of the relationship. They are trying to work with the person for their own good, of course they are, but if the person starts thinking this person has got the power to stop the benefit next week, that is a problem we could generally do without.

  Mr Wylie: Our view is that employment advisers should be public sector workers, but our absolute view is that decision-makers, in terms of benefit entitlement, must be employees of the state. If we describe them in DWP as Secretary of State decisions, then that is exactly what they are. Our members are effectively acting on behalf of the Secretary of State deciding whether a benefit can be paid or not paid. I think one of the greatest dangers that we have heard this morning from another contributor is about how some clients find it easier to talk to the voluntary sector than they do going into a Jobcentre Plus office, I think that sort of relationship would be severely damaged by the Age Concern or the RNIB local voluntary sector individuals being put in a position where they are having to say to people, "You are not going to get any benefit", and that warm, courted relationship that exists now will change very quickly if people are being told by their voluntary sector advisers, "I am sorry, you are not getting any money this week", and that is why I think that control and that impartiality has to remain within the public sector.

  Q255  Greg Mulholland: Harry Cohen and I have some questions on measuring and rewarding performance. I have to go in a few minutes, and perhaps you will excuse me for that, but can I run two questions together. We have talked about the group of clients who are furthest from work and the issues around that. The first issue is what sort of targets could be introduced to ensure that providers do actually engage with that key group, and the second is how do you think the Prime Contractor model is actually working in practice? Does it encourage greater use of specialist organisations or do you think it will squeeze out small providers?

  Mr Hoyle: Can I take the second one first. I think Prime Contractors is a concept which our association supported, but we would be worried if it became a sole contractor. We were very concerned it went too far and we suspect it has gone too far. There are too few prime contractors. I think, first of all, it causes a major problem on choice, which is across governmental policy. I think the choice of provider for the employment adviser, for the personal adviser, is much restricted, so I am very worried about that. In its very early days there is some early evidence that some of the prime contractors have not gone down the sub-contract route which was in their specification, which was there to makes use of highly skilled specialist providers, and I think that does need to be carefully controlled. There is probably a counter-definitive statement to that, but I would certainly hope that DWP watch that very carefully over the next few months and make sure that the basis on which bids were won are actually carried out in practice or else I think there will be some small and very effective low providers who miss out, and I think everyone would lose from that. What targets to engage is a much more difficult one. I think the referrals from the jobcentre are critical. If you want to make sure that the providers are targeting the right people, then obviously the whole referral exercise is quite important. You certainly could not have a situation where referrals were turned away. That may be part of it, but I think that is a more difficult one.

  Ms Parry: Can I come to the private contractor situation first, because we are quite clear on this. We feel that the Prime Contractor model as it currently looks risks losing the diversity of provider network for the sake of securing efficiency savings. The model really moves contract managements to the prime contractor, and we feel that over time the prime contractor is bound to deliver more and the sub-contractor less. Also the prime contractor model does not support the Government's own choice agenda, which we do. So, we have got a situation where it may compromise diversity, it may work against the choice of the customer, there is a possibility of monopoly development, and it just does not encourage ongoing quality provision. We wonder, in particular, if there is an underperforming prime contractor in a district, how would the Jobcentre Plus respond if there is no alternative provider? We are quite clear on that. With regard to targets, we would like to see targets around sustainable jobs. Again, we are coming back to skills here, are we not, or I am coming back to skills here. We want to see people going into jobs that are sustained over a really long period of time. We regard 13 weeks as being quite arbitrary, a 13-week sustainable job. At 13 weeks all those other barriers to work can often kick in, and so we would like to see longer sustainable jobs there, and we think that, if there was a skills strategy that supported that, we would see people going into jobs, being trained, sustaining that employment and progressing within that employment.

  Mr Wylie: Briefly, on the prime contractor question, we share some of the concerns of the colleagues here, in particular the provision of specialist services that are provided at a very low and very local level. An example of that is the provision of services for New Deal for Self Employed. There is a New Deal for Self Employed option which is almost always supported by very small local firms who might well be squeezed out by the Prime Contractor model, and so we share those concerns. In terms of targets, the only point I think we want to make is that Jobcentre Plus are in danger of becoming completely obsessed by targets, and in some cases we think there are targets for targets' sake and setting unrealistic targets certainly does not work. Our members are keen to deliver a quality service and to ensure that not just the fast-track, easy to fix clients are dealt with but the more difficult, longer-term unemployment people with disabilities, people with drug addiction, alcohol problems are dealt with in a more professional and compassionate way, and that can only be done if we have got the time to do it. The biggest problem our members face at the moment is that the service is being stretched to the limit because of the job cuts, and so setting targets does not solve that problem. What would solve it is resourcing the service to a level where we can provide the service that we want to provide.

  Q256  Harry Cohen: Can I ask you about "distance travelled" targets. Notwithstanding what you have said about targets, this is where people, clients really have made some progress perhaps in learning circumstances or are overcoming multiple barriers. The problem is that these sorts of targets, the DWP argues, can create incentives for people to stay in activities that do not necessarily lead to a job. Do you agree with that?

  Mr Wylie: I am not sure if that is the case. We have not done a significant amount of research on this, and maybe it is something that I can get back to the Committee on. The problem with DWP's targets regime is that very often it does not reflect the reality on the ground, and our members are being asked to perform at a level that is, quite honestly, not attainable given the amount of resources that we have got. In terms of distance travelled and those targets, it is something we have not done a great deal of work on.

  Q257  Harry Cohen: It is a proposal rather than actually being brought in. It is being mooted that it could be introduced. There is then a problem. On the one hand, we have had evidence, for example, that said they could become very cumbersome and we really should be keeping it simple and, on the other hand, we have had evidence that says we do not want to be too mechanistic and we should have a rank of targets that leads to people making progress at least towards getting a job at some point in the distant future. What do you think on this general argument about distance travelled. Should it be there at all?

  Ms Parry: I think our argument would be that there should be an element of uncapped contract here so that we can work with those who have a long distance to travel, but that we do not receive any payment for them until they do achieve a job, and then it is surely in our interests to ensure that the distance we travel is as short and as useful as possible for that particular individual.

  Q258  Harry Cohen: But you can have some people with quite intense barriers and you will not get paid?

  Ms Parry: Absolutely, but then it comes back to how we ensure (the question that came earlier) that we are not just picking the low-hanging fruit, that we are targeted to inreach that far and engage on that basis. So, yes, you might have a position where you are working for a long, long time with an individual, but, ultimately, you would be getting them into work and training.

  Q259  Harry Cohen: Maybe the payment should be greater?

  Ms Parry: Yes, if they have further to travel, but on that basis you have to classify people early on. There has been quite a body of work from Australia, and such like, on that, so maybe that is something we should be looking at. Again, it comes back to the point I made earlier on about the quantity and the quality of the data that we have. We do not have the kind of data that we do need and that we should have.

  Mr Hoyle: I think there is a problem here. We need to accept that there are milestones on the way which have value in themselves, and the Jobcentre Plus approach is, very reasonably, we need to get people into work, therefore they concentrate on getting them a job. I do not dispute that, I do not argue with that; I happen to believe that for the more difficult clients there are milestones that ought to be recognised and they tend to be the employability milestones or, indeed, skill milestones. I think there is a real problem within Jobcentre Plus in actually acknowledging the importance of those milestones because of its focus on getting them a job. Elsewhere the Learning and Skills Council, their milestone, their end product, should I say, is the qualifications, the skills, the employability; so I think there are other mechanisms that ought to be targeting those which will leave Jobcentre Plus free, in many ways, to concentrate on getting work-ready people into work. The work-readiness, however, is better the responsibility of somebody else.

  Ms Parry: Can I add quickly on top of what Graham was saying there, a route into work for many people is volunteering, and we seem to make it unnecessarily difficult for people to volunteer. They cannot claim Access to Work funding, for instance, and the DDA legislation would seem to be tricky. We seem to be giving employers opportunities not to take on these people, denying clients the opportunity to gain steps and achieve, milestones in that journey. Again, it is a question of joining up our legislation and making sure that everybody has that access to those milestones and is achieving them.

  Mr Wylie: One of the keys to doing that is to ensure that Jobcentre Plus have the flexibility, particularly at a local level, to work with the appropriate partners, whether they be the voluntary sector or the private sector, to ensure that people do get the support and help and advice that they need to get them further down that road.

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