HC Deb 06 March 1989 vol 148 cc587-8
4. Mr. Brandon-Bravo: T

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security when social security offices will be linked to the mainframe computer system.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

Already, Sir. Under the Department's computerisation programme, we have established pilot link-ups between 22 local offices and new mainframe computer systems for pensions and a central index. The largest and most ambitious project, dealing with the processing and payment of income support, was successfully introduced in Bolton and Edinburgh, south, local offices on Monday 27 February 1989.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

I hope by that answer that my hon. Friend is effectively announcing the end of the Dickensian paper chase which used to cause so much frustration, not just to applicants but to staff in various offices up and down the country. Can he shed some further light on the matter, and say whether computerisation will permit on-line information at the point of inquiry at local offices? Will there be a link-up between local offices, for example, to ensure that the John Doe who applies in one of the Nottingham offices is not the same John Doe who applies at the office down the road in Derby? Such a system would, one hopes, eliminate fraud.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

My hon. Friend is quite right. It will be the end of the paper chase. In two years' time, when the national roll-out is complete, it will certainly be possible for an individual to go into his local office and see the information on the VDU screen, to which every office will be connected. As my hon. Friend suggested, that will also create the valuable by-product of helping to eliminate the small proportion of cases which are fraudulent.

Mr. Allen

Can the Minister confirm that there were problems at Bolton on the very first day of operation? Will he also confirm that the objective of the Government's strategy is to free social security officers to deal directly with clients? How many more people are dealing with clients face-to-face than before the system came in?

Mr. Peter Lloyd

The same number of people are dealing with clients face-to-face, but they do so with better and more accurate information and can answer questions quickly. The hon. Gentleman referred to the experience at Bolton. Minor problems were encountered in the offices there, but nothing substantial, and nothing that will in any way hold up our plans for introducing the system. The whole point of having a pilot period is to iron out small difficulties so that when the system rolls nationally there will be no problems.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is welcome that Bolton was chosen for this pilot scheme? Will he say a little more about the benefits that will accrue from computerisation?

Mr. Peter Lloyd

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), the benefits for the claimants are that he receives a quicker, more accurate and more complete service. The benefit for the staff is that they can work in a way that satisfies them because they can give a better service in better conditions. The benefit for the taxpayer is that he will save on administration in the system.