NAO report on change in jobcentres: Public Accounts Committee comments

12 February 2013

Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, comments on report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

Margaret Hodge MP said:

"Jobcentres up and down the country have responded relatively well given their limited resources to a doubling in the number of claimants, triggered by the economic downturn. The demands on jobcentres have been intense. In the 4 years between April 2008 and March 2012 there was a 98% increase in the number of those claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.

"Despite these demands, performance of the network of 740 jobcentres has held up against key targets.

"The Department has decided to relax how it measures jobcentre performance and relies predominantly on the numbers of claimants coming off benefits. However, this measure gives an incomplete picture of actual employment outcomes as claimants may have simply moved onto other benefits, been imprisoned or stopped claiming without entering employment. The Department’s own 2011 survey suggests this could apply to around 3 in every 10 of those who cease their claim.

"The Department is taking a more hands-off approach to allow local jobcentre staff to decide what works best for the claimants they deal with. While this is to be encouraged, widespread local experimentation without the Department measuring and understanding what works and at what cost does not guarantee the best value for the taxpayer.

"As the Department steps back from applying standard processes nationwide, it must step up its evaluation of its tailored support and spread good practice. Without a strong central understanding of what types of support are effective, the Department will struggle to deliver the best outcomes for claimants in the face of tightening budgets and a struggling economy.

"Robust assessment is vital to compare and contrast jobcentres’ performance with other welfare to work providers, such as those delivering the Work Programme. The Department must also use the experience of jobcentres to inform and strengthen its grip on Work Programme contracts, so that it can challenge effectively providers’ so far dismal performance."

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