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Volume 488: debated on Wednesday 25 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to ensure that his Department has the capacity to provide effective and timely assistance and support to those made redundant. (252692)

The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the acting chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Mel Groves. I have asked him to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.

Letter from Mel Groves:

The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question asking what steps he is taking to ensure that his Department has the capacity to provide effective and timely assistance and support to those made redundant. This is something that falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Acting Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.

The support we can provide begins as soon as a business announces redundancies and involves help for the employer and employees. In Scotland this help is delivered by way of the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) initiative. PACE is a Scottish Government initiative, in which Jobcentre Plus is an active participant, which provides a framework for a consistent and co-ordinated public sector response to dealing with companies in difficulty, including redundancy. The key aim of PACE is to help people who have been made redundant into alternative employment or training, as quickly as possible. This help can include workplace briefings by Jobcentre staff, skills assessments, and advice on how to look for a new job.

Support is also available through the Rapid Response Service (RRS) administered across Great Britain by Jobcentre Plus. This provides access to funding to help individuals made redundant where no other help exists or is insufficient to get them back into work. The budget for this service was doubled this year, from £3m to £6m, and will be doubled again next year to £12m. This will enable us to deal more effectively with situations involving 20 or more redundancies, or where there is a group of smaller redundancies in one locality. Although this funding has not yet been called upon in Scotland, any bid will be administered in line with the local PACE Partnership.

We have also announced that more people who are made redundant will get help through Programme Centres. These provide people with different kinds of help such as assistance with CV-writing and gaining jobsearch skills. Access to Programme Centres was previously restricted to those furthest from the labour market. Advisers will now have the discretion to allow any customers to access this help as soon as they become unemployed. This will be useful for people who have been in work for a long time and have no recent experience of job hunting.

We are also extending Local Employment Partnerships to provide help for newly redundant people. Local Employment Partnerships are simple deals we have agreed with employers, from local to national level, whereby we prepare customers for work and employers provide guaranteed job interviews, work placements, mentoring and work trials. Through these, Jobcentre Plus is already working successfully with over 13,000 employers, and has helped over 100,000 people into work.

To enable Jobcentres to manage the increase in register sizes, we are recruiting additional staff and are looking at extending office opening hours and how we might use partner premises where appropriate to create the additional capacity we need to help the increasing number of customer who need our help. We have also expanded our Rapid Reclaim arrangements. These enable customers who were in receipt of benefit at any time in the 26 weeks immediately prior to redundancy, to quickly access benefits via an abbreviated new claims process.