Headlines: September 25th, 2001

Job Centre Plus, the new Agency formed by the merger of the Employment Service and Benefits Agency, has found that merging the two cultures of job finding and benefit payments is fraught with difficulty. As well as union opposition to a corporate style uniform similar to that of high street banks and building societies, a new report published by the Department for Work and Pensions reveals weaknesses in management and technology.A survey found that staff felt their training was inadequate to deliver the new vision of a seamless job and benefits service. The Personal Advisors whose task is to offer clients a work-focused service, tailored to meet individuals’ needs, are consistently frustrated by routine activities and the daily throughput of clients. They feel unable to provide the tailored, client-centred service and referral activities that form the core of the vision for the new agency. Personal Advisor interviews are dominated by benefits, with benefits processing being dealt with before work-focused activities. Merging employment and benefits has also created a demand for staff to have a wide knowledge of both sets of rules, but the survey showed they lacked both the knowledge and experience of specific types of client needs and the practical interventions that might be possible.

The new Agency is launching some 50 pathfinder Job Centre Plus offices in the next few months. They aim to deliver an integrated jobs and benefits service with high quality access to job advice including touch screen ‘Jobpoint’ computer terminals giving access to thousands of vacancies across the country. They also provide a single gateway to the welfare system for all working age clients.