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Jobcentre Plus

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what account is taken, when decisions are made to close or reduce services at JobCentre Plus offices, of views of (a) customers of the office concerned and (b) the wider community; how those views are ascertained; what account is taken of public transport availability to the proposed alternative; what is considered to be a reasonable (i) travel time and (ii) travel cost to be met by the customer referred to a different office of JobCentre Plus; and if he will make a statement. [108235]

[holding answer 9 April 2003]: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Acting Chief Executive of the Jobcentre Plus, Clare Dodgson. She will write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Clare Dodgson to Andrew Dismore, dated April 2003:

As Jobcentre Plus is an Executive Agency, I have been asked to reply to your question concerning how we take the views of our customers into account when decisions are made to change our services, and what consideration we give to accessibility by public transport. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of the Agency.

In creating a network of about 1000 sites we are increasing the access and availability of our services to people who use only ex-Benefits Agency sites, and reducing the need for other customers to visit both a Jobcentre and a social security office. Our current arrangements for undertaking home visits and permitting certain individuals to sign by post still apply.

The introduction of advanced telephony and modern IT. equipment is enabling us to provide new ways of accessing our services. To make a claim for a Jobcentre Plus benefit the customer contacts us on a local rate phone number. Personal details are taken, forms are posted out and an appointment with a Personal Adviser is arranged. Providing access to job vacancies by telephone and the Internet also enables customers to access our services at a time and from a location of their choice.

Jobcentre Plus District Managers have many criteria to consider when they are planning the location of sites and the delivery of services in their areas. In particular they consider the availability of public transport, travel time and cost. The availability and cost of public transport varies widely across the country, so it is not possible to be prescriptive. Planning for the implementation of Jobcentre Plus is a local process designed to meet the needs of local communities, with decisions best being made by local managers. This means that many different and specific factors can be considered at that level.

With regard to travel time, we have asked District Managers to ensure that, as far as possible, customers will not have to travel for an unreasonable amount of time as a result of closing an existing office. Careful account is taken of population size and spread, where people are located, and many other factors, to ensure that we agree the best location for our new offices.

In our early planning for each Job Centre Plus district we are sharing our proposals for service delivery with a wide variety of people and organisations. While these are determined by local management they will include, for example, local MP's, Local Authorities, service delivery partners, employers' representatives, Citizens Advice Bureaux, welfare rights organisations, other Government Agencies, Health Authorities, Housing Associations, our staff and trade union representatives. After views and comments have been taken on board District Managers then share the finally agreed plans with the people and groups described above.

We do survey our customers to find out their opinions of the service that we provide. This information is used to improve that service. It is not however practical or possible to consult all our customers and potential customers about major changes to our service, including possible office closures.

For districts introducing the new service in 2002/03 the main communications exercises took place between June and September, and we were pleased to receivecomments and views on many aspects of our plans. We have taken account of those views, changed our plans where appropriate and responded to those who contacted us.

I hope this is helpful.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will make a statement on the recent dismissal of 600 employees from local jobcentres and social security offices in London; [105479](2) what the basis is upon which the headcount target of staff working in jobcentres and social security offices in London has been calculated. [105480]

The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the acting Chief Executive of the Jobcentre Plus, Clare Dodgson. She will write to my hon. Friend.

Letter from Clare Dodgson to Mr. John McDonnell, dated April 2003:

As Jobcentre Plus is an Executive Agency, I have been asked to reply to your question concerning the reduction of staff numbers in Jobcentre Plus, London Region. This falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of the Agency.

The national roll-out of Jobcentre Plus is bringing together the old separate Jobcentres and Benefit Offices to form our new integrated offices, which will provide both services in one place. Staff movement between different roles is an ongoing feature of the development of this new service.

Jobcentre Plus is contributing to the wider DWP modernisation and efficiency agenda and the workforce planning levels agreed for Jobcentre Plus in London form part of this. The allocation of resource budgets within Jobcentre Plus is linked to expected workloads and performance targets. Each Region, including London, has a share of the total Jobcentre Plus performance target. The headcount target for London region, like all regions, is based on this.

Between April 2002 and February 2003, Jobcentre Plus London region reduced its permanent staffing by 668 in line with workforce efficiency plans. This was achieved through a combination of staff moving to The Pension Service, other parts of the Department for Work and Pensions, other Government Departments or through natural wastage. In reaching the reduction in staffing figures, no permanent members of staff were dismissed or made redundant.

A number of meetings, at both Regional and District level, have taken place with union representatives since last summer about this matter. These meetings have also been supplemented by ongoing correspondence. Headcount target figures were shared with PCS Regional colleagues in September and a discussion on measures required to manage towards those workforce numbers took place at a meeting on 25 September 2002. More recently, a meeting took place in January 2003 and was followed up by detailed letters, with a further meeting taking place in February 2003.

In managing our target headcount level in London 350 temporary staff were released prior to the end of the 2002/03 operational year. Where operational needs were identified, 250 temporary staff were retained in London Region Jobcentres and Social Security Offices after 31 March 2003.

The radical modernisation of our services as part of the Jobcentre Plus rollout will inevitably lead to some disruption. However, we are managing these changes to minimise any negative impact on the delivery of our services to customers.

I hope this is helpful.