Committee of Public Accounts: Press Notice

Committee of Public Accounts recommendations on public services accepted by Government

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"The Government has accepted recommendations to help people from their key target groups, many of whom will be people from workless households, to find and stay in work. I am pleased that the Department plans to introduce more personalised services to address individual needs and that providers will be rewarded largely on the basis of sustainable job outcomes.

"Recommendations to improve the retention of students in higher education have also been accepted. I am pleased that the Funding Council will work closely with universities that have high levels of drop-out and that it has committed to encourage all universities to review the academic and pastoral support that their tutors provide to students.

"The Government has acknowledged that it was, in part, responsible for the flawed operation of the compensation scheme for former Icelandic water trawlermen. HM Treasury has recently issued advice to departments on operating compensation schemes and the National Audit Office intends to publish additional advice.

"I welcome the Government's acceptance of our conclusion that some claimants for compensation under the coal health compensation schemes have had to wait too long. It has made a commitment to clear the outstanding claims by 2009; and is rolling out a programme to help claimants who may have been charged unfairly by solicitors and other firms.

"Our Committee concluded that far too many people bounce back and forth between short-term employment and welfare. The Government has accepted recommendations to help such people gain sustainable employment. I am pleased that the civil service will work with Local Employment Partnerships to recruit a more diverse workforce."

The Government was responding to the following reports by the Committee of Public Accounts:

Helping people from workless households into work (9th report)

The Government accepts that more can be done to help their key target groups (many of whom will be people from workless households) to find work, stay in work and progress. To achieve this, the Department for Work and Pensions will bring in more personalised and flexible employment services, with the introduction of Flexible New Deal in 2009, alongside a strengthened framework of rights and responsibilities. The Department's new commissioning strategy sets out how it plans to improve value for money from its contracts with providers, with a rationalisation of contracting along with a greater focus on sustainable job outcomes. City Strategy Pathfinders, now in their delivery phase, are exploring how to tailor provision and support to give workless people the skills and abilities needed by employers. The Department is also increasing its engagement with healthcare professionals and employers to ensure early support is available to help people remain in work when they develop a health condition.

Staying the course: the retention of students on higher education courses (10th report)

The Government accepts that universities not performing well against their benchmark need attention. It is now developing improvement plans with universities with consistently low retention rates. It has also worked collaboratively on developing good practice - through a new grants programme, and workshops (organised with the NAO) to identify and share good practice. The Government recognises the importance of personal and academic tutoring and will encourage universities to review provision of pastoral support. For students in need of Disabled Students' Allowances, research has been commissioned on universities' disability support services with a commitment to disseminating the findings on how best to support this group.

The compensation scheme for former Icelandic water trawlermen (11th report)

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) accepts that it was partly responsible for the difficulties that arose in connection with the compensation scheme for former Icelandic water trawlermen. The Department was under pressure to launch the scheme but did not consult sufficiently with the fishing industry beforehand. It accepts that it should have considered a pilot of the scheme rules. It acknowledges the need for future schemes to be designed in a way that better relates to the evidence available, or to put clear criteria and procedures in place wherever discretion is needed. HM Treasury has recently set out advice to public bodies on operating compensation schemes.

Coal Health Compensation Schemes (12th report)

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) accepts the Committee's conclusions that it was initially ill prepared to handle these liabilities; its early negotiations with the solicitors on their tariffs for representing claimants were weak; that the schemes were more costly to administer than they might have been; and that some solicitors had made unfair deductions from their clients' compensation. It also accepts that some claimants have had to wait too long for their compensation awards. The Department will endeavour to apply the lessons learned to completing these schemes and future health related liabilities. It expects the Vibration White Finger (VWF) scheme to be substantially complete (fewer than 300 claims remaining) by Autumn 2008 and on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to be substantially complete (fewer than 500 claims) by Summer 2009. This is subject to the resolution of outstanding issues, either by negotiation or through the Courts.

Sustainable employment: supporting people to stay in work and advance (13th report)

The Government accepts that more can be done to help people who are cycling between benefits and work. The introduction of Flexible New Deal, which will replace the Jobseekers' Allowance New Deals for October 2009, should provide more personalised help, and along with payment by longer-term results, should reduce the number of people caught in repeated spells of long-term unemployment. To track the impacts of employment and education programmes over longer periods, and measure retention and progression, the Education and Skills Bill currently passing through Parliament contains clauses that will allow the necessary data sharing between DWP, DIUS and HMRC. DWP and DIUS are developing a universal adult advancement and careers services to help people improve their skills, move into sustainable employment and progress in work. The civil service is being encouraged to work though Local Employment Partnerships in their workforce planning and recruitment. The introduction of more demand-led education, Train to Gain and Skills Accounts, aims to encourage more people to improve their skills.

Notes to Editors

1. This information is contained in Treasury Minutes presented to Parliament in May 2008 by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on the following five reports: 9th report Helping people from workless households into work; 10th report Staying the course: the retention of students in higher education courses; 11th report The compensation scheme for former Icelandic water trawlermen; 12th report Coal health compensation scheme; 13th report Sustainable employment: supporting people to stay in work and advance

2. For a list of all the recommendations and responses, go to http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm73/7364/7364.asp