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Next Steps Agencies

Volume 194: debated on Monday 1 July 1991

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To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what improvements in customer service have been brought about by the creation of next steps agencies.

Improving the quality of customer service is one of the prime aims of next steps, and agencies are given targets for that. To quote but two of the many examples, the Meteorological Office's "Weather Initiative" provided umbrella retailers and manufacturers with advance information on the likelihood of last week's rain so that they could plan their production and distribution accordingly. The Driver Standards Agency has reduced waiting times for driving tests, and in order to promote road safety, examiners will now explain faults made by learners.

I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's reply. Does he agree that the next steps agencies will help to improve service to all consumers?

I have no doubt that one of the main purposes of the next steps agencies is to give greater customer satisfaction, which will be achieved only by providing better service.

Does the Minister believe that one of the improvements in customer services as a result of setting up the agencies should be that applicants for income support should automatically be assessed for any other grant or benefit that may be available to them?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been over this before. As I said, it is for the Secretary of State involved and the agency's chief executive to set the performance targets that he expects the chief executive to meet. If the hon. Gentleman would like to take this matter up with the Secretary of State for Social Security and the chief executive of the agency, I am sure that they will carefully consider his suggestion.