HC Deb 21 October 2002 vol 391 cc10-2
8. James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

What plans he has to increase the flexibility of delivery of the new deal for clients and providers. [73066]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown)

The new deals have already proved a success, helping nearly three quarters of a million people move into work. We are now building on that success. We have already introduced a range of further initiatives, including the tailored pathway pilots and the adviser discretion fund. Both of those give personal advisers, working with providers, more flexibility to tailor services to address the particular needs of individuals and the local labour market.

James Purnell

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. His Department's response to the Select Committee's report on the new deal says that it will consider more moves towards making this area more flexible. Will he look particularly at streamlining the new deal so that there is one overall scheme, which would provide more flexibility for advisers to give an individual package of help to claimants, designed around their needs rather than around the needs of large categories of claimants?

Mr. Brown

We are looking at what greater flexibility can be given to advisers in particular circumstances. Initiatives to increase flexibility in the new deal include the adviser discretion fund, which gives the personal advisers flexibility in the way they help people to overcome barriers to work. The tailored pathway pilots give advisers flexibility to combine new deal options to suit the needs of individual clients. There are also the ambition programmes, and employers have been given more flexibility in the way in which training is provided on the employment option. We have introduced short work-focused courses in the education and training option to meet the needs of local employers more flexibly, and, later this year, we will introduce more payment flexibility for small employers on the employment option.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Would the Minister be prepared to look at the current spending profile of the new deal for disabled people? Many of the job brokers involved are small specialist concerns—some are charities and agencies—that find it difficult to survive given that they are sometimes getting less than 10 per cent. of their fee up front. Sometimes it takes many months to get the rest of their fee for the scheme. The scheme is very welcome in concept, but some important aspects need to be considered carefully if we are to make it a realistic prospect for some of the agencies and job brokers who are anxious to help.

Mr. Brown

I agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's point. There is clearly an issue in relation to the way in which providers are paid, and strong representations have been made to us about the balance between outcome payments and payments made earlier in the programme. The matter is being given careful consideration in the Department now, and I hope that we shall have something further to say shortly.

Angela Eagle (Wallasey)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the effectiveness of the new deal depends partly on the professionalism of the staff delivering it? In that regard, will he send his congratulations to Mr. Kevin Adderley and all the staff at the Wallasey Jobcentre Plus, whose latest results have just shown that, since it was set up as a pathfinder office, it has found work for 2,700 people, including 700 from the hardest to help groups? That makes it the top-performing pathfinder office in the country.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for standing up for the hard-working staff in Jobcentre Plus. I have been impressed by the levels of commitment and standards of service of our staff in Jobcentre Plus, and by their sheer enthusiasm for the ideas that underpin the Government's approach. I know that, when other Members have visited their Jobcentre Plus, they have received a similar impression. I am happy to extend my congratulations to my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given that the recent report of the Labour-dominated Public Accounts Committee found that 30 per cent. of leavers from the new deal for young people went to unknown destinations, will the right hon. Gentleman accept the report's recommendation that his Department and Jobcentre Plus conduct further research into why people leave the scheme, in order better to identify those participants who need additional help and support?

Mr. Brown

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new responsibilities. I also welcome the constructive line of questioning that he is adopting. The Public Accounts Committee reports are, of course, delivered in a bipartisan setting. Indeed, it is one of the strengths of that Committee that it can arrive at its conclusions unanimously and strive to get recommendations to the Government that transcend traditional party lines. We will of course look at the PAC's recommendations, but I must say that I thought the report constituted an endorsement of what we were doing rather than the full-blooded criticism for which the hon. Gentleman may have been looking.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

My right hon. Friend will know. because I have discussed the issue with him, that in my constituency, although long-term unemployment is four times lower than it was in the 1980s, we still have a residual problem because of the large number of workers on short-term and fixed-term contracts. Would not a bolder and more radical solution be to make the expertise gained by new deal advisers accessible to people who are in work but who, owing to the nature of their contracts, know that in four to six weeks they will be out of a job for an unspecified period before obtaining another short-term contract? Can we help that group of workers to escape from the perpetual cycle of short-term and fixed-term contracts and into full-time work by applying such expertise?

Mr. Brown

That is a good point, which we have discussed before. The labour market in my hon. Friend's constituency is slightly anomalous because of the impact and prevalence of the short-term contracts to which he has referred. I am not sure how much the Employment Service and Jobcentre Plus can do to deal with the core problem—the short-term nature of the contracts themselves—but I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friend and see what more can be done.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)

In relation to the hardest to help, can the Minister undertake to look carefully at the conclusions of the Select Committee report regarding the involvement of the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors in finding jobs for people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs?

Mr. Brown

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have programmes targeted at those recovering from drug addiction, and also at ex-offenders. Of course the voluntary sector has an important part to play in that work, as it already plays an important part in the provision of, for example, intermediate labour market schemes, which can provide a pathway to permanent employment. I take the recommendations very seriously indeed.