Headlines: June 11th, 2002

Following the settlement in April of the long running dispute, including strike action by the Public and Commercial Services Union , Job Centre Plus is to be rolled out nationally. The new combined jobs and benefit offices were formed by the merger of the Employment Service and Benefits Agency.The challenge for Job Centre Plus was to merge the two cultures of job finding and benefit payments and the development path has been fraught with difficulty. The major point of contention with the Union was the new relaxed style of interview environment and the removal of protective screens. There was also a dispute about a corporate style uniform and a damming report by the Department for Work and Pensions criticizing weaknesses in management and technology.

The Job Centre Plus concept has been trialled in 56 offices and the national roll out will involve the creation of a further 225 offices. The programme is due for completion in spring next year when all the new offices should be open and the old style offices closed down.

Job Centre Plus will play a major role in the welfare strategy announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair. More is to be done to give unemployed youth the skills to find a job. Single mothers will be given the childcare needed to go out and work. The middle-aged man on a disability benefit will be given support and confidence to go back into the office.

It is claimed that Job Centre Plus shows what public service reform is about by creating a new responsive service focused on the customer, in this case the jobless.