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London DWP Management lights the touchpaper
by Barrabas 08/10/2005

Due to not having enough bodies left in London to provide the service that the government wants to deliver, PCS asked, not unreasonably , for a moratorium on further job cuts in the Capital, a multilingual contact centre in Harrow (where there is a very high percentage of ethnic minorities in the locale, reflected by a high percentage of ethnic minority PCS members whose work will be transferred to Cardiff), and an early commitment to no compulsory redundancies across the department.

Talks have come and gone, but despite London Jobcentreplus (the bulk of London DWP in the field) having won an all members ballot for discontinuous industrial action by a 2:1 majority, all management can come up with is no compulsory redundancies until next March, provided we drop the strike ballot. Surely, if we haven't got enough staff to provide a service across London, a possible redundancy situation doesn't exist anyway?

If our minister spent less time beating his breast in public about his sordid private life, and more time finding out what is happening in his offices, he would discover that pursuing Boss Brown's scheme of cuts will soon result in the collapse of the service in London, and later, elsewhere. But perhaps that is what is needed to make the juicier parts ripe for privatisation.

Our punters are not impressed by the increasing delays, resulting in a doubling of reported violent incidents in Jobcentreplus offices in the last year (since the cuts started to bite into the front line).

Fraud investigation staff are having to apply for their own jobs, with cuts in the number of trained investigators of anything up to 40%. They've been told that the level of fraud has decreased, so not so many of them are needed. It has decreased because 40% of it is no longer called "fraud", but "compliance" - which is not Fraud work. Fraudulently obtaining a replacement payment, is no longer fraud: you won't get prosecuted for thieving from us, just a verbal slap on the wrist. What sort of message does that send the punters?

But I digress, the purpose of this communique is to leak the Management response to recent talks. It's embargoed until Monday 10th, so promise me you won't read it till then. The GEC and London Regional Committee can chew over its content next week. My spies in the factional camps say we won't be accepting the deal, you read it here first.


DWP/GEC/323/05

Keith Wylie

Group Secretary

Public and Commercial Services Union
Ground Floor
34 Lisbon Street
Leeds
LS1 4LX

Jane Saint

Director of Human Resources

Porterbrook House

7 Pear Street

SHEFFIELD S11 8JF

Tel: 0114 2597976

Fax: 0114 2597969

e-mail: jane.saint@jobcentreplus.gsi.gov.uk

6 October 2005

Dear Keith,

LONDON AND RELATED ISSUES

I wanted to write quickly following yesterday's meeting to do a number of things. First, to say that I very much appreciate the constructive way our meetings of 28 September and 5 October have been conducted, with genuinely positive efforts from PCS and Jobcentre Plus to try and find a mutually acceptable way forward. These meetings, I know, continued in the spirit in which your two earlier meetings with Mel Groves - to discuss London issues - were held. As I made clear yesterday, whilst you were disappointed in some of what you heard, my colleagues and I remain very much open to a further meeting if you think that would move us further forward.

For the avoidance of any doubt - as your Executive faces some key decisions - I also thought it would be worthwhile to sketch out some of the main areas from our discussions. My strong sense is that the time we spent at both meetings, but particularly the second, talking about service delivery was worthwhile. PCS have set out very clearly their members' concerns about a range of service delivery issues and particularly the impact on local offices of operational problems at first contact.

I should stress again that, within Jobcentre Plus, we do appreciate and acknowledge that there have been problems, which in a number of sites have been quite marked. That is exactly why we designed and are deploying a robust, risk-assessed plan for restoring the level of service we give our customers and, thereby, relieving a good deal of the pressures - particularly those caused when customers have to try more than once to reach us.

We do not underestimate the strength of feeling, nor are we saying that everything is precisely as we would like it to be as we continue through this important period of transformation to our new service delivery model. But we are confident that we are well on track with our recovery activity; delays, repeat calls and workloads are falling, and we are meeting our targets - with the important exception of Job Entries, which we are also addressing. It makes sense that we continue this line of discussion so that both of us share an understanding of the Jobcentre Plus modernisation programme, and the end-to-end process, including its benefits, transitional issues we will face in implementing it, and how it will help us to deliver our services to our customers against a backdrop of reducing staff numbers and changes in where activity takes place. Mel Groves made clear he would be pleased to advance that dialogue; could you please let Richard Yeats know when you would like a meeting of that type to take place.

I hope that you agree this wider operational context was useful but we met, of course, primarily to discuss the issues you have raised around London , where PCS members have voted to take strike action. Our discussions have centred on three issues you raised in an effort to find a negotiated solution to the situation. I have addressed each of these in turn:-

•  An acceptance that the London headcount target for March 2006 does not have to be met, and that a halt to staff reductions will take place, leading to replacement of those staff who continue to leave . PCS asked that a moratorium be established so that we can take stock of the on-going staff reductions and the service delivery issues we discussed. As I undertook to do following our first meeting, I did set out the PCS position to the Jobcentre Plus Board and full consideration was given to your points, including an analysis of the position across the regions. However, the Board reached the view that we were unable to offer any movement: we have a national headcount target for the year end of 71,000 and have allocated all of our available headcount and financial resources. To increase London 's share of the headcount would mean making commensurate reductions elsewhere (something PCS is clear it has not asked for). Moreover, the case for shifting resources in that way is not supported by London 's strong performance and the fact that other regions face greater percentage reductions in their headcount this year. I do recognise and acknowledge that this was disappointing for you.

•  An indication that a multi language contact centre would be sited in Harrow on a permanent basis . I explained how the Board would be considering the position at its meeting of 18 October. We will look at: whether a language centre is the right solution for Jobcentre Plus; the full business case; and discuss where would be the most appropriate location. We very much welcome the document you passed to us yesterday to feed into that process and I was pleased that we were able to give PCS a further opportunity to contribute its thinking, in the light of the note we passed to you at the meeting yesterday, by 10 October.

•  An early commitment to no compulsory redundancies across the Department . We both acknowledged that the appropriate place for these discussions remains at Departmental level. However, given the need to address the focus of our meeting - London - I was able to offer, in return for an end to industrial action, a commitment of no compulsory redundancies within Jobcentre Plus in London this operational year. To clarify, this was on the basis that, first, we would be unable to accept any further ad-hoc extensions of these arrangements and, secondly, that PCS nationally would not support any further industrial action in relation to staff reductions and a no compulsory redundancy commitment.

I appreciate fully that you need to reflect on our discussions and that, in the early part of next week, you have important meetings at which the PCS position will be determined. Our shared objective remains to avoid a strike and the damage that causes both to our customers and to the relationships between Jobcentre Plus people. In closing, and framed by that objective, I do want to emphasise that - whilst it falls short of what you were seeking - Jobcentre Plus has offered what is within our scope to resolve the issues. And I would repeat my offer to meet again if you would find that helpful.

I am copying this letter - for their personal information - to my Jobcentre Plus Board colleagues, Alan Brown, and Kevin White.

Yours sincerely,

[Sent by email]

JANE SAINT