§ Mr. Fraser
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment why telephone callers to his Department's advertised number of 213 3000 are being asked successively to redial two further numbers, the last of which is mainly engaged; what action he proposes to take to improve telephone communications with his Department; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Lee
The 213 3000 number for this Department was changed to a new number on 18 January 1988 as part of the modernisation programme of the Whitehall telephone exchange system which is run by the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA), as part of the common service to Government Departments.
After the changeover, a recorded message was placed on the 213 number and callers were asked to phone a central switchboard where they are told the new number of the person or section they want to contact. Provided the extension is not busy the call is then transferred, avoiding the need to dial an additional number.
However, the passport office was also on the old 213 exchange and because of the large number of people who ring there the number has sometimes become overloaded. At such times operators have asked callers to dial the new number directly in order to deal more quickly with new inquiries.
The CCTA has recently installed a new intercept recorded announcement message, which gives more prominence to the new number of the passport office. This should reduce the number of callers erroneously ringing the number used by this Department. The volume of callers on the 213 number is also decreasing as people are becoming aware of the new numbers. The CCTA is also ensuring that all callers who ring the 273 number are transferred to the new extension number and are not being asked to make a further call.