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PETERBOROUGH II - THE FINAL OFFER?

Mark Serwotka Esq.
Public & Commercial Services Union
160 Falcon Road
London
SW112LN


14 March 2002

JOBCENTRE PLUS

I agreed to write to you following our recent meetings to clarify a number of areas of concern arising out of the proposals that we tabled during our discussion last October that have generally been referred to as the "Peterborough Proposals". I trust that this written clarification will provide important reassurances to your members about how Jobcentre Plus will operate within a predominantly unscreened environment and will provide the basis both for the future roll-out of Jobcentre Plus and for bringing the current dispute to an end.

You raised questions, firstly, regarding the activity to be undertaken at the initial Welcome Point in Jobcentre Plus offices. The work undertaken in this respect is different from that currently undertaken at BA Reception Points. There is no intention to replicate at the Welcome Points the complex and lengthy transactions sometimes carried out by BA Receptionists. Jobcentre Plus processes are designed to reduce casual callers and consequently queues at offices by encouraging people to contact Jobcentre Plus call centres and by developing a clear expectation of new customers to benefit arranging pre-booked appointments where enquiries cannot be dealt with over the telephone. Furthermore, the use of floorwalkers will avoid queues and unnecessary waiting by customers. The role of staff at the Welcome Point will be to provide services that can be provided there and then, eg dealing with simple enquiries, issuing advice/information and leaflets, and then ensuring that customers with more detailed requirements are directed to the appropriate person or area of the office. The staff at the Welcome Point will therefore operate as part of a "first contact" team along with floorwalkers, security guards where they arc required as a result of local risk assessments, and the "first contact" manager. It is a key responsibility of the Jobcentre Plus office manager to ensure that this team is supported by colleagues within the office.

The practical experience of this work will be an important area which will form part of the review which we are committed to undertake with PCS as part of the Peterborough Proposals. I have also roads clear that this review will be conducted on a without prejudice basis with regard to the staffing and safety control measures associated with the Welcome Point and first contact arrangements.

You also raised questions regarding the availability of screened areas for all Jobcentre Plus offices to deal with the "higher risk processes" identified in annex 2 of the Peterborough Proposals. I can confirm that these activities will not be carried out in unscreened areas. Where face-to-face appointments need to be arranged for the higher risk process transactions covered, by annex 2, these will be made for offices where a. screened area is available and will be carried out in that area. Should a caller visit a Jobcentre Plus office which does not have a screened area and wish to undertake a higher risk process transaction, or where an individual is identified as "potentially violent*', as indicated in paragraph 2e of the Peterborough proposals, staff will arrange for any necessary face to face appointment for the individual to be with an identified member of staff in an office with a screened area.

In the event that an individual calls at the end of a working day, we would normally make an appointment for the following day in an office with a screened area. Customers who fall within this category will be paid their fares to attend an appointment where this is required. In this, as elsewhere, we will expect staff to exercise their discretion as to the best and safest way of dealing with customers, within the overall arrangements set out in the Peterborough Proposals.

Turning to the future roll-out of Jobcentre Plus offices, I can confirm that screened provision in each area will be sufficient to meet the needs of the work. The allocation of at least one office in each Pathfinder having a screened area will be reviewed as we roll out to full districts. We will provide available information on caller numbers, including the incidence of higher risk transactions, and discuss levels of usage and the numbers of offices in each district which need screens with PCS. This will also be the subject of periodic review as economic circumstances change and these reviews will be conducted with the full involvement of PCS.

You also raised the question of the voluntary filling of the new posts created by Jobcentre Plus which require face-to-face contact with customers. I am happy to confirm that it remains our intention to fill all such posts on a voluntary basis. In the event that we were to experience any difficulty in the application of this policy, such as there being insufficient volunteers available for any location, we will discuss the position with PCS.

You also raised the issue of how staff may exercise the discretion provided for by the Peterborough proposals, particularly where they are concerned that meeting a particular customer in an unscreened environment might compromise their safety. The Peterborough Proposals refer to the expectation that such discretion will be exercised "infrequently". That should of course be seen in the context of the total number of callers seen in Jobcentre Plus offices. I can confirm that where an individual member of staff reasonably believes that their safety may be compromised by seeing a particular customer m an unscreened environment the member of staff would not need to seek prior approval before exercising this discretion. Again, this is an issue we would be happy to discuss with you as pan of the review process.

Finally, you raised issues about generic and local risk assessments and the role of the new Director of Safety. I am pleased to confirm that I am appointing a Director of Safely to support the Board of Jobcentre Plus in ensuring that the extensive safety arrangements in Jobcentre Plus offices are maintained and developed. A key role of the Director of Safety, and managers more generally, will be to consult with PCS safety representatives at national level and in our field organisation to ensure that safety systems arc effectively implemented, monitored and further developed in me light of experience and changing needs. The generic risk assessment and local risk assessments will continue to be kept under review and revised in the light of joint discussions as circumstances require.

I trust that this letter, and the assurances it provides by way of clarification of the Peterborough proposals, provides the basis for the future roll-out of Jobcentre Plus. I trust That PCS will see this as a positive and agreed way forward.

Yours sincerely
LEIGH LEWIS