§ Sir Teddy Taylor
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many members of staff at the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service took part in the recent industrial action; and what steps he is taking to resolve the dispute. 
§ Mr. Nicholas Brown
[holding answer 5 February 2002]: On average 23,635 members of staff, out of a total of 100,000 across the Benefits Agency and Employment Service, took part in industrial action on 28 and 29 January 2002. This represents approximately one quarter of the combined total of staff in the two agencies. The figures on strike were down from the December action when an average of 27,538 members of staff took part.
To date, more than 60 hours of negotiations (spanning 17 meetings) have taken place with the PCS union in an attempt to settle the current safety dispute. A set of proposals aimed at resolving the dispute was put to the union on 17 October. Despite the recommendation of the union's negotiators, these proposals were rejected by the PCS National Executive Committee by a small margin.
The PCS tabled its own proposals on which the dispute might be settled in December. The PCS proposals were considered carefully and two meetings were held with the union. However, the proposals ran contrary to the Government's policy that Jobcentre Plus should be delivered in a predominantly unscreened environment. The delivery of a personalised, customer-focused service in a predominantly unscreened environment, supported by enhanced security measures, is central to the new Jobcentre Plus service.
The proposals on offer last October, save for those that have been overtaken by time, remain on the table. These include details of which services are appropriate for dealing from screened areas, revised risk assessments, enhanced job specifications for security guards, and a review, involving the PCS, of the operation of the Pathfinders. The proposals continue to offer a basis for a negotiated settlement to the dispute.