Examination of Witnesses (Questions 241
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2006
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
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
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
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 workjobs
first, I understand thatbut 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 levelhow 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
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
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
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.
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
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
Chairman: I will let you ponder upon
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,
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
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
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
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.