§ The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes)
On 15 July 2003, I published the key findings from the report of the independent review of the Operation of the National Asylum Support Service (NASS), and I promised a further statement in due course about the action taken in the light of the review. As I indicated in July, the review has formed the basis of a major programme of reform. Progress against that programme continues to be overseen by a steering group chaired by Bill Jeffrey, Director General of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate reporting directly to me. The Steering Group includes an external perspective provided by Alan Barnish who was a member of the independent review team. I am now in a position to update the House on progress which has been made in—implementing this programme, since the review was completed six months ago.
The review made it clear that some key issues needed to be addressed. It is still the case that NASS faces significant challenges, due, among other factors, to the complexity and visibility of its role. But in the last six months NASS has both raised its performance in a number of specific areas highlighted by the review, and laid the foundations for sustained medium and longer-term improvements across its business as a whole. The timed action plan I referred to in my July statement is now in place.
Action in relation to Key Findings:
KEY FINDINGS (1) AND (2);
For NASS to perform at its best it needs to:
- be clear what is expected of it and how its success will be judged;
- have the financial and managerial resources to do the job;
- have a thorough understanding of its own strengths and weaknesses;
- have a clear view of what it needs to do to improve its performance;
- understand its impact on the whole end to end asylum process;
- sort out some of its key business processes and procedures;
- get better at working with the rest of IND in a fully joined up operation.
NASS needs to have its purpose, aims and role clarified and re-affirmed by Ministers. It needs to be given a realistic remit and the necessary resources and political support to do that job.
The principles of good performance identified by the review have been accepted and are being applied. NASS's purpose, aim and role have been clarified and reaffirmed by Ministers. Appendix A shows the statement of NASS's purpose, aims and roles (collectively comprising NASS's strategic intent) which have been developed. Appendix A also shows the nine objectives on which NASS is now concentrating its effort upon support of the overall strategic intent.
KEY FINDING (3):
NASS needs urgently to improve its operational performance and standards of customer care. It needs to get better at working with its partners and stakeholders, and much slicker at sorting out basic processing errors especially when these affect individual asylum seekers and damage the reputation of the organisation.
The communications team within NASS has been strengthened and is developing a strategic framework for NASS's contact with external partners and stakeholders. A new National Asylum Support Forum has been established with partner organisations and has met three times since the statement on 15 July.
Significant improvements have been made to the performance of IND's Telephone Enquiry Bureau (INEB). As part of that, the average time it takes to get through to INEB's cash support helpline has fallen in the past eight months from over three and a half minutes to under one minute.
KEY FINDING (4):
NASS needs to strengthen its management capacity at all levels. Two new senior posts have already been created, but more needs to be done in the middle tier of the organisation which is under-resourced and hence weak.
A new governance structure has been developed and is now in place. The senior management team (SMT) has been strengthened through the appointment of experienced officials to the two new senior civil service posts. A separate and larger programme group is tasked with driving forward the many additional and cross-cutting strands of project-based work within the organisation. The middle tier of the organisation has been strengthened by the delivery, over the period, of management training to 150 NASS managers.
KEY FINDING (5):
NASS needs a realistic three-year budget and flexibility in the way it can be used to respond quickly to changing circumstances and opportunities without going through over elaborate bureaucratic processes.
An appropriate 3-year budget has been put in place together with arrangements for reviewing it, and therefore achieving flexibility within the context of IND's overall budgetary framework.55WS
KEY FINDINGS (6) AND (7):
NASS needs support to develop and implement a medium term strategy. This must be produced in the context of an overall strategy for IND which clarifies and strengthens the links between NASS and the other parts of the asylum system.
A medium term plan needs to address:
- What they should be aiming to get out of the next round of accommodation and other contracts;
- What phase 2 of the regionalisation should look like;
- How to work better as an integrated part of IND and develop meaningful relationships with key stakeholders.
In parallel with addressing the immediate concerns identified by the review, NASS is developing a medium term strategy to ensure improvements are sustained and built upon.
An IT steering group has been set up within NASS and a NASS IT strategy is being prepared. This work is fully integrated with ongoing IND-wide developments in the field of IT. The Home Secretary announced on 24 October 2003 that families who sought asylum in the UK more than three years ago would be considered for permission to live and work here. In implementing this announcement, we are piloting web-based software which enables NASS, others in IND, and our partners in central and local government, to have real time access to the live information we need to ensure an efficiently managed process.
A major stakeholder event was held in Woking in November 2003 to look at the challenges and priorities involved in renewing NASS's contracts with accommodation providers, many of which will expire in 2005. We are currently considering how to put the Woking recommendations into practice.
The first phase of regionalisation has successfully been rolled out and most of the necessary embedding of functions has been completed. NASS is now managing housing management, outreach and investigation work from its new regional locations. As a result there is much more face to face contact between the organisation and supported asylum seekers. Through the establishment of these closer links and those with its key partners, positive steps have already been taken to improve service delivery and to ensure that wider issues are dealt with more effectively.
Planning is now underway for the second phase. This will focus on improving the services currently provided centrally by NASS to dispersed asylum seekers through a wholesale review of current arrangements for managing casework. I believe this will be much welcomed by many of the key stakeholders concerned. This is a large and complex area of activity and will require a staged programme of work to ensure an effective transfer of functions.
KEY FINDINGS (8) AND (9):
NASS needs a period of stability to enable it to get on top of the job. It also needs confidence that it will not have to cope with any new initiatives and reviews without adequate time and resources to handle and implement them safely.56WS
NASS needs to be allowed to use the breathing space provided by the drop in intake numbers to get on top of the job, not to take on new tasks.
Especial care is being taken to avoid allocating tasks to NASS which are not fully within its role and for which it is not equipped.
NASS's strategic intent comprises its purpose, aim and role, as follows:
- Purpose—to provide a system of basic support to eligible asylum seekers;
- Aim—to provide a system that is cost effective and which contributes to cohesive communities and to effective integration for those who are granted asylum;
- arrange provision of accommodation to asylum seekers for the period they qualify;
- arrange provision of subsistence payments to asylum seekers for the period they qualify;
- work with the rest of IND to deliver an effective end to end asylum process, and to work in partnership with other agencies to deliver the above.
NASS' s strategic objectives are to:
- improve day to day business performance;
- reduce support costs;
- fully engage and develop our staff;
- improve responsiveness to queries relating to asylum support;
- deliver effective and efficient regionalisation;
- deliver appropriate and cost effective accommodation for asylum seekers;
- deliver our business in a way which supports community cohesion;
- improve linkages with other parts of the asylum process;
- engage better with stakeholders and improve communications.