To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what assessment he has made of the effect on the quality of public sector services of the establishment of agencies.
Improved service is one of the most important benchmarks by which the success of the next steps initiative will be judged. Results from the early agencies are promising.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quality of service promoted in the next steps programme is wholly consistent with the Government's drive to improve the quality of life in the areas affected by these services for those who work in them and, equally important, for the customers?
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. One of the main objectives of the next steps programme and the reforms is to ensure that the service provided to the public by the civil service is strengthened still further and that the quality of the service is even better. As we look to the 1990s, that is our clear priority. Evidence is coming in already that the agencies, ranging from Companies House to the laboratory of the Government chemist, and including HMSO and many other organisations, are providing an improving service and that high priority is given to the customer.
Does the Minister accept that computerisation of the benefit system has caused great problems for the staff and that, far from staff reductions, the 23 managers of the system agree that staffing levels should be increased? Current problems include giros not being paid on time, specialist benefits not being dealt with and money from the social fund, designed to make crisis payments for cookers and the like, not being paid out on time.
That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and the hon. Lady will be aware that my right hon. Friend is paying great attention to the way in which we can improve the services through that system. An agency is to be established next year which will strengthen still further the prospects for a better service.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only the conditions for those who consume the agencies' services but the terms and conditions of the employees have been improved? Will my right hon. Friend give every consideration to the Paymaster General's office in my constituency where the management would greatly welcome an early move in to the private sector?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We must, of course, draw a distinction between agencies remaining under the control of Secretaries of State and privatisation. There is increasing enthusiasm on the part of the staff in those agencies—hence their success stories. The potential for staff terms to be improved is considerable as a result of more flexible pay, individual performance bonuses and, in some cases, group performance bonuses.