HC Deb 06 February 1989 vol 146 cc624-6
4. Mr. Summerson

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he is acting on any of the recommendations made in the "Business of Service" report.

12. Mr. Patnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how relocation of social security office work out of London will affect service to the customer.

Mr. Moore

I have accepted most of the recommendations of the "Business of Service" report and I am in the process of implementing them. Relocating some social security work will enable us to improve the current unsatisfactory service that customers receive in some London offices. By moving backroom work out of London we shall be able to provide a better, more efficient and responsive service to our customers. All the affected London offices will remain open, some on better sites, and more branch offices will be opened in poorly served areas.

Mr. Summerson

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that no social security offices in my constituency will be closed? If any are closed that will obviously result in a far worse service to my constituents.

Mr. Moore

As I have said, there are no proposals to close offices although some are not regarded by our staff as being in the best locations to serve my hon. Friend's customers who are also, happily, his constituents.

Mr. Patnick

Will my right hon. Friend tell us the effect of moving the London social security offices to the regions? Are any scheduled to go to Sheffield, Hallam? Assuming that the answer is no, will he consider moving some there because I am sure that that would benefit the city greatly?

Mr. Moore

On this occasion I cannot give any joy to my hon. Friend. I commend him for the way in which he argues for his constituents. The three social security centres that I announced recently will be in Glasgow, Belfast and the Wigan area. We shall, of course, consider further relocation for parts of my headquarter operation. I shall take seriously the interests of the assisted areas in parts of the country where, tragically, there are still higher levels of unemployment than I would like.

Mrs. Beckett

Will the Secretary of State confirm that in the computer projects, on whose efficient operation the success of this proposal depends, the social fund program for example is now running on its sixth version and still contains 100 mistakes? Is he aware that when queries are made at local offices about delays and mistakes in the payment of benefits that are handled centrally, such as some disability benefits, the usual answer is, "That has nothing to do with us, it is a matter for Blackpool, Glasgow or Newcastle"—or wherever? It is widely believed that these delays occur because there is not enough staff at those locations to cope with the workload. Does the Secretary of State expect the House to believe that the proposals will lead to an improved service while still saving £4 million a year?

Mr. Moore

The hon. Lady is wrong, and not only on the detailed facts about the computer program. I had hoped that she would wish to commend it because, despite the initial teething troubles in parts of the computer program, it is one of the most successful operations by civil servants that I have seen in our country for generations. However, that is not relevant to the actual decisions. I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that the key problems relate to the difficulties of many employers in London about high wastage, rates, working conditions and the costs of London work. I noted carefully the warm reaction by many hon. Members to the sensible relocation to those areas of the country that will benefit. That relocation also helps customers, staff and the taxpayer.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

In his laudable attempts to improve the service to the customer by the relocation of Social Security Department facilities, will my right hon. Friend bend his mind to the facilities that have already been relocated? The attendance allowance delays that are reported to me in my surgery are getting far and away out of hand. There is inordinate delay in dealing with applications and appeals relating to attendance allowance. That needs to be corrected. Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking to do so?

Mr. Moore

Of course. My hon. Friend makes a fair point. We are discussing relocation and the ability of our centres to give good customer service, whether on family credit or attendance allowance. I am determined to achieve such a service. Despite current difficulties we have seen considerable improvements in the last year.