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Jobcentre Plus

Volume 516: debated on Monday 18 October 2010

2. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of services provided to jobseekers by Jobcentre Plus. (17482)

8. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the support provided to jobseekers by Jobcentre Plus. (17488)

I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) has a huge interest in job clubs and has done a lot in her local area. I know that is appreciated.

There are 741 jobcentres, 35 contact centres and 78 main benefit delivery centres that process claims, investigate fraud and deal with inquiries. A full assessment of Jobcentre Plus services for 2009-10 was included in the annual report and accounts published on 26 July 2010. It was generally very positive. Jobcentre Plus has gone through a lot of difficulties over the past year and a half, but has done so really well. It is worth reminding ourselves that Jobcentre Plus helps 75% of claimants leave jobseeker’s allowance within approximately six months.

A carpenter from my constituency, Mr Pay, was told by Jobcentre Plus that delivering thousands of leaflets and advertising his services in the local media did not constitute actively seeking work and his jobseeker’s allowance was withheld. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that that will not happen again?

I understand that the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), has intervened in the case and is busy sorting it out with the jobcentre to make sure that the rules change so that we never see a repeat of it.

My right hon. Friend kindly mentioned the job clubs that I started in South Northamptonshire. They do excellent work, largely through volunteers, with a bit of support from the local council. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend told us what plans he has to support the work of those job clubs as they make the transition to work clubs.

As my right hon. Friend the Minister has made clear endlessly, it is critical in the whole Work programme process, which includes the element of work clubs, that we work on the basis of our understanding of previous information to bring people together and make sure that their shared experience can help them overcome some of the barriers. That is a critical component. That shared experience, as my hon. Friend and many other hon. Friends in the Chamber will know, can help people through the difficulties, so that they do not repeat the same mistakes. It will be an essential part of their work experience.

The Secretary of State is already aware that there will be a lot of pressure on Jobcentre Plus in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire over coming months, because the Work programme—even with the best will in the world—will not be in place until next summer, and in the meantime there will be the migration from incapacity benefit to the employment and support allowance. On the Government’s figures, at least 200 people will end up back on jobseeker’s allowance, with perhaps another 400 needing the work-related activity element. The Minister has already announced £50,000, but, apart from that, what extra resources will be put into Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to make sure that the excellent workers in Jobcentre Plus are able to give the specialist help that my constituents and others round about so richly deserve?

We are, of course, aware of that, and the hon. Lady has, I think, discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. As things stand, we think that the money that has been made available will be sufficient to cover the gap period, of which we are fully aware, so that nobody suffers a loss until they have gone through the system and had a chance to get on to the Work programme. We will, of course, keep the matter under review, and if there is an issue I guarantee the hon. Lady that we will make sure that it will not mean that people are penalised.

In the same vein, may I ask the Secretary of State what he is doing to measure the adequacy and effectiveness of private job agencies such as FourstaR Employment and Skills Ltd, which has a Government contract to help unemployed people in my constituency to find work?

The greatest form of measurement that we can use is that which will apply to the Work programme, whereby bodies will essentially be paid by results. In other words, if they do not get people back to work, they will not receive the money that will allow them to make any kind of profit at all. The best way of measuring them is to pay them when they are successful, and not, as happened with one scheme under the last Government, before they are successful.