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Departmental Expenditure

Volume 455: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

5. What assessment his Department has made of the likely effect of planned changes in departmental expenditure on service delivery. (113151)

The Department’s planned expenditure to March 2008 was settled in the spending review 2004. Departmental performance was reported in the autumn performance report that was published on 14 December 2006, copies of which are available in the Library. Over the comprehensive spending review period in 2007, we will extend the service we provide through the introduction of the new employment and support allowance and improvements in child support and pensions.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. My constituency is in an objective 1 area and efficiency plans from the Department and agencies that will lead to the loss of high quality jobs will deliver a bitter blow to the local economy. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that any future plans will not have a negative impact on customer service or remove much-needed local employment in low-income areas, such as mine?

We want to provide the best possible service we can to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those of every hon. Member, and we work hard to try to do that. There are five Jobcentre Plus offices in his constituency, four of which are full time. One has become part time and, whenever such changes are necessary to improve the overall quality of the service we provide and achieve the best value for money for the taxpayer, we will always try to ensure that suitable and proper arrangements are in place—for example, for those of his constituents on JSA who may need to travel further to sign on.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State correctly announced the abolition of the Child Support Agency and its replacement by a new body that will be legally established in 2008 and operational in 2010. Will he give the House an assurance that that body will be properly resourced through his departmental expenditure, so that the problems that beset the CSA will not affect the new commission?

Yes, I can certainly give my right hon. Friend that assurance. The combined effect of the reforms will, I hope, be a drastically reduced inflow of new cases to the new child maintenance and enforcement commission. That in turn, I hope, will lead to a reduced need for investment from taxpayers’ resources in that new commission, but the resources needed to provide a proper high-quality service for all our constituents will be available.

As the Gershon review was about greater efficiency in the delivery of maintained departmental services and as we know that its implication is a net loss of about 30,000 jobs in the Department, will the Secretary of State tell the House what action he proposes, through training or other initiatives, first, to maintain staff morale and, secondly, to ensure that departmental services are not subject to further degradation?

It is possible both to reduce the total number of people employed in a Department and at the same time improve the quality of the public service that we provide. The two things are not necessarily contradictory, provided of course that they are done sensibly and properly. We are doing that. So far, I think that we have had to make only one person compulsorily redundant in the nearly 21,000 jobs that have been lost since the 2004 spending review, and we very much want to continue in that vein. In relation to the future, I agree strongly with what the hon. Gentleman said; it is important to maintain the morale of the Department’s staff, who do an excellent job in all parts of the country, and we work hard with the trade unions and others to make sure that that continues to be the case. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that maintaining the quality of the service we provide is our No. 1 priority. As well as reducing staff, we are transferring more staff to the front office so that they can deal with and interact with our constituents more directly. That is the right and proper thing to do.