Tagged: Cabinet Office

Tories May Axe 100,000 Civil Servants Over The Next Half Decade

Whitehall is facing the prospect of having to shed as many as 100,000 jobs over the next five years, the union representing senior civil servants has said.

The head of the FDA, Dave Penman, said he expected the Conservative government to continue primarily targeting staffing levels as it makes yet more swingeing cuts to public spending, leading to an even greater round of public sector job cuts than those under the coalition.

He said that, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s analysis of the chancellor’s autumn statement, only 40% of the total cuts expected between the election of the coalition government in 2010 and the next general election in 2020 had been made.

Those cuts had come at the cost of around 80,000 jobs, Penman said, leading him to believe that the remaining 60% would cost a further 100,000.

The DWP could lose 20,000 to 30,000 staff, the HMRC could lose 10,000 to 15,000 … it is greater cuts than over the last five years and most of that is based around staffing, so it is not surprising.

“That is what the civil service is expecting, it is certainly what we are expecting. We are back to the 1930s level of spending.”

The former cabinet office minister Francis Maude led a round of job losses over the last parliament, prompting the Public and Commercial Services Union to accuse him of showing “enthusiasm for cutting jobs”.

Penman said that he wanted the government to be honest about what it could deliver if it went ahead with its plans to squeeze the civil service.

“We are saying you need to match commitments with resources – you can’t just cut that amount, then say ‘get on with it’.”

But he said that the FDA could not stop “an elected government from cutting the size of the civil service when they have been elected to do so”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said:

“The minister will set out his priorities for this parliament in due course. Anything else at this stage, one week into his tenure, is purely speculation but all is working well so far and we have a strong, cohesive centre.”

Source – The Guardian, 18 May 2015

Benefit Claimants ‘Fleeced’ By Rip-Off 0845 Helplines

Millions of Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people are being “fleeced” by rip-off 0845 helplines, it has been reported today.

According to a report by the Daily Mirror, figures uncovered by Labour MP Frank Field show than pensioners, carers and benefit claimants are still being charged for higher rate calls, despite promises from the government two years ago that it would phase out 0845 helpline numbers.

Since 2012, the Pension Service has received around 12 million 0845 prefix calls, including 2.5 million over the last year.

2.9 million 0845 calls were made to the Carer’s Allowance helpline, while more than 530,000 people called for advice about Winter Fuel Payments and 360,439 higher rate calls were made about Bereavement Benefits.

0845 calls can cost anywhere from between 1p and 12p a minute from a landline and from 5p to 40p if calling from a mobile phone.

Callers spent a combined total of £56 million from using 0845 helplines in 2012 alone.

Frank Field said:

“At the very point in their lives when millions of people are most in need, they are being fleeced by the Government and the phone companies.

“Ministers promised over a year ago that these rip-off lines would be scrapped. Might they now sanction such a move as quickly as they sanction claimants?”

The Cabinet Office issued guidance in 2013, stating it was “inappropriate” for “vulnerable and low-income groups” to pay “substantial charges for accessing core public services”.

Two years later the Department for Work and Pensions is still “in the process of replacing all its 0845 number prefixes in use for its national helplines”.

A DWP spokesperson added:

“We introduced 0345 numbers for DWP national helpline service numbers – this is alongside an 0845 option, which can currently be cheaper for some dependent on their telephony provider.”

Soure – Welfare Weekly, 23 Mar 2015

http://www.welfareweekly.com/benefit-claimants-fleeced-by-rip-off-0845-helplines/

Government ‘blunder’ risks thousands of teenagers losing the right to vote, MP warns

Thousands of the region’s teenagers risk losing their right to vote in the general election after a Government blunder, MPs are warning.

Local authorities are failing to register “attainers” – 17-year-olds who could be adults by May 7 – after errors in letters drafted by the Cabinet Office, they say

Now figures  reveal an extraordinary 80 per cent fall in attainers on the books of just one council, County Durham.

If the slump – of just over 3,000, in just one year – is replicated across the region, it would mean that close to 20,000 first-time voters could lost their vote.

The controversy was raised in a recent Commons debate by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who described the situation as a “scandal”.

In North Durham constituency, there were 647 attainers on the register in February last year, but that number has plummeted to just 126 one year later – after the mistake.

The pattern is repeated in Bishop Auckland (a fall from 662 attainers to 118), Durham City (from 625 to 177), Easington (from 641 to 95),  North West Durham (from 689 to 156) and in Sedgefield (from 513 to 97).

Mr Jones said:

“We could put the fall down to a drop in the birth rate in 1997 – clearly there was a lack of passion in North Durham – but that is obviously not the case.

 The Labour MP urged ministers to provide funding to local councils and require them to use other data they hold on 17-year-olds to get them registered in time.

And he said:

“That must be done, otherwise many 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before May 7 will assume that they will get a vote, but will not get it.”

Under the old system, where the head of the household registered all voters, a section of the form asked for the names of any 17-year-olds to be added.

But the sentence is missing from letters sent out under the new system – of individual electoral registration (IER) – which is being introduced to combat fraud.

In reply, the deputy Commons leader Tom Brake, promised to write to Mr Jones, but stopped short of agreeing to instruct – and fund – town halls, to correct the problem.

 A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said it was “encouraging all local authorities” to write to every property in their area to tell 16 and 17-year-olds to go online to register.

Meanwhile, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman criticised a separate barrier in the way of young people attempting to register – the requirement to provide a national insurance number.

She told ministers:

“A letter with a young person’s national insurance number arrives before they are 16 and we are suggesting that two years later teenagers will know where that letter is and have kept it in a safe place. I cannot think of anything more naïve.”

Source –  Northern Echo,  16 Feb 2015

North East public sector strike news – 1

Thousands of public sector workers went on strike in a bitter disagreement over pay and pensions, as part of the biggest day of industrial action seen in the country for years.

More than 400 schools in the region were fully or partially closed as teachers downed tools during the walk out.

Joining them were home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners, as well as firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.

Picket lines were mounted outside schools, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.

Nationally, around 1m workers took part in the 24-hour strike, which unions claimed was one of the biggest in the country in years.

The Cabinet Office blamed union leaders for “irresponsible” strikes.

A spokesman claimed most public sector workers had reported for work and “nearly all key public services were being delivered as usual”.

The biggest issue in dispute is pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.

Thousands joined a march through Newcastle City Centre campaigning against cuts, changes to pensions, pay and work conditions.

Chants of “they say cut back, we say fight back” could be heard as the crowd of teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants led the procession from outside City Pool, near the Civic Centre, as part of the one-day walk-out with teachers also highlighting concerns over children’s education and firefighters raising their fears that cuts risk lives.

Among those lending their support was Blaydon MP Dave Anderson who said: “It’s a really good turn-out. I’m impressed and spirits are really high.

These people do a tremendous job day in day out and we are not looking after them properly. It’s time we did.

“It’s time we said enough is enough. They are at the end of their tether and a cry for help.”

The procession of workers, carrying banners and placards and flanked by mounted police, headed towards Northumberland Street then through the throng of shoppers onto New Bridge Street for speeches on the blue carpet area outside Laing Art Gallery.

Most were delighted at the turnout.

Shirley Ford, 50, an administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields, said: “I was also on the picket line in South Shields this morning and when you’re in a small school it’s hard to sense how everyone else is feeling so this is great to see – and the sun has come out!”

Andy Nobel, executive member for the FBU in North East which is the middle of its own industrial action following the loss of 300 firefighter posts and station closures in the wake of the Government’s austerity measures, said: “Public support during our whole dispute has been fantastic.

“When they’ve heard our arguments there hasn’t been a great deal, if any, adverse public reaction.”

A further eight days of action is expected to be announced.

One firefighter, who did not want to be named, said the chief concern of colleagues was pensions not pay.

Meanwhile, teacher Tony Dowling, 57, the members’ secretary for Gateshead NUT, said: “The main reason is the pension and pay but I’m really on strike because I care about the education of the children.

“Michael Grove is making the jobs of teachers impossible and ruining children’s education.”

Cheers greeted the speakers at the rally who included Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s deputy regional convenor for public services alliance, who called the national turn-out “the second biggest turn of action since the end of the Second World War”.

Gordon Thompson, a councillor from Newsham ward in Blyth Valley, known for his refusal to pay his Poll Tax, was among the supporters at the rally and stressed the importance of making a stand.

And a familiar face lending his support was local actor Joe Caffrey, accompanying his father, retired Unison member Joe Caffrey senior, who was standing up for service providers whose pensions are taking a hit.

The 69-year-old from Whitley Bay said: “I’ve got a pension but I’m here for the people still working, particularly the young people.

Picket lines were also formed outside some of the region’s schools and council offices, including Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions, in Longbenton.

Newcastle’s Grainger Market was closed to the public for the first time in two years because of the industrial action.

Reports suggest there was around 5,000 people at today’s march.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  10 July 2014

Thousands of North East workers gear up for a massive day of action

Thousands of North East workers are gearing up for one of the biggest days of industrial action in this country in years.

Teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants will  join up with around 1.5 million colleagues nationwide in a 24-hour walk-out in a protest over pay, pensions and work conditions.

Bin collections will be suspended, council buildings including libraries will be closed and most controversially it will result in the sweeping closure of hundreds of schools across the region.

Mike McDonald, Regional Secretary of the NUT which has 20,000 members in the region, said: “Teachers are extremely reluctant to strike because of the impact on children’s education.

“However they feel that this current Government’s attacks on education will cause far more damage.

“Morale in the profession is at rock bottom, teachers are wasting hours on pointless paperwork and scores are quitting in their first years because of unmanageable workload, uncertain pay and worsening pensions.

“Children deserve teachers who are motivated, enthused and valued. Education Secretary Michael Gove would do well to engage properly with the profession and address teachers’ concerns to end this dispute.

“For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week is unsustainable.”

The Fire Brigade Union is protesting at changes to firefighters’ pensions and a later retirement age.

Meanwhile the GMB, Unite, UNISON and the Public and Commercial Services Union are protesting over pay rates.

A pay freeze was imposed in 2010 for three years followed by a 1% increase last year and the same offer this year.

They say that represents an 18% fall in pay in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s.

Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s Deputy Regional Convenor and a local government employee said: “The pay offer from the local government employer is derisory in the extreme.

“This year’s pay offer would see 90% of school and local government workers receive a further pay cut. The offer of a 1% pay rise if you earn £7.71 per hour or more, or if you earn below that it is slightly more to take us just above the National Minimum Wage.

“This pay offer does not keep pace with price increases and our pensions will suffer. This pay offer is nowhere near enough.”

Karen Loughlin, the union’s Regional Lead Officer on Local Government, said: “Part-time workers – mainly women and more than half the local government workforce – have been particularly hard hit, with their hourly earnings now worth the same as they were 10 years ago.

“Many low paid part-time Local Government workers need benefits and tax credits to keep their families out of poverty.

“It is deeply disturbing to hear the continuing stories of Local Government workers resorting to food banks.

“UNISON is demanding a decent pay rise in recognition of the valuable role that our members perform in delivering public services to children, young people, the elderly and vulnerable in our communities.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers have not voted for this week’s strike action, so it is disappointing that the leadership of the unions are pushing for a strike that will achieve nothing and benefit no one. Union leaders are relying on mandates for action that lack authority – the National Union of Teachers is relying on a ballot run nearly two years ago.

“As part of our long-term economic plan, this Government has been taking tough decisions to address the budget deficit we inherited in 2010.

“One was to introduce pay restraint in the public sector, while protecting the lowest paid. Pay restraint protects public sector jobs, supports high-quality public services and helps put the UK’s finances back on track.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  08 July 2014

Britain should renew Trident nuclear weapons says report

> No money for welfare, but always money for weapons of war…

Watch the video before reading the article. It’s from the Thatcher/Reagan era, but although the faces may change, the song remains the same.

 

 

Britain should renew its nuclear weapons programme, according to a cross-party group of MPs and experts, although it should consider whether to abandon continuous patrols.

The Trident Commission, which includes Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Conservative foreign secretary, Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, and Lord Browne, the former Labour defence secretary, published its final report on Tuesday.

The group concluded the Trident nuclear system should be renewed, even though to do so could cost up to £20bn, to provide an effective deterrent to other states who might wish to threaten the UK with their own nuclear weapons.

> And these states are… who, exactly ? How are you going to nuke a terrorist organization that operates across national borders ?

But the commission also called on the government to consider relaxing its rules on providing round-the-clock deterrence, though it was split on whether the UK should do this unilaterally or in conjunction with partners.

The report said: “If there is more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role in the defence of the United Kingdom and its allies, in preventing nuclear blackmail, or in affecting the wider security context within which the UK sits, then they should be retained.”

> This, of course, is all from the viewpoint of those who believe they have a place reserved in the bunker.

For the vast majority of us, in the event of a nuclear action we’ll all fry anyway – the idea that we might do so more happily if we knew our counterparts in the other country were also frying is horrendous, but that’s how its sold to us.

And all too often, bought by us.

The consensus from all group members, including Sir Menzies, whose party has traditionally been most hostile to renewing the UK’s nuclear deterrent, is a sign of the similar conclusions reached by all three parties on the issue in the last year.

While the Conservatives have always favoured replacing the entire weapons system, along with all four submarines, the Lib Dems prevented them from making the final decision to do so during this coalition.

But following a Cabinet Office investigation into alternative options, the Lib Dems now back replacing the Trident system, albeit arguing for a reduction from four to three boats. Though this could mean abandoning uninterrupted patrols, the party argues that this would be worth doing as it would save up to £5bn in capital costs and show the UK’s commitment to disarmament.

> Lib Dems go back on profoundly held views shock !  And justify it on the grounds that spending slightly less on weapons of mass destruction amounts to showing the UK’s commitment to disarmament.

Labour has taken a position somewhere between the two, arguing that continuous deterrence must be maintained, but that it might be possible to do so with three boats rather than four if the design is sufficiently advanced.

All three parties accept that any other form of nuclear weapons system, whether based on the land, air or in less powerful submarines, would actually be more expensive than simply replacing the Trident boats. The commission endorsed that conclusion, saying: “We are opposed to proposals to develop alternative platforms and delivery systems, with new warheads, simply on the basis of possible but speculative cost savings.”

The final decision to replace Trident will be taken by 2016, barring any last-minute changes of heart by the three main parties.

> So if you’re hungry, homeless, disabled, living under threat of benefit sanctions, just be grateful that in the case of a nuclear war, you might die horribly and pointlessly, but so will your counterparts in the “enemy” state.

You’d rather that £20 billion was spent to ensure death rather than to sustain life, surely ?

Source – Financial Times 01 July 2014

Universal Credit Could Lead To ‘Increased Risks Of Fraud And Error’, Say Work And Pensions Committee

It remains uncertain how DWP will manage the housing costs element of Universal Credit without increased risks of fraud and error, warns a Work and Pensions Committee report.

The Government has stated that an IT system (the Integrated Risk and Intelligence Service (IRIS)) will allow it to cross-check data and provide similar safeguards against fraudulent claims under Universal Credit as are currently operated by local authorities within the Housing Benefit system.

 However, last year the National Audit Office (NAO) found that IRIS was “missing” from the UC Pathfinders, and it remains unclear how or when DWP will achieve automated access to the range of property data currently available to local authorities. The Committee concludes that such a system will need to be fully developed and tested before national implementation of Universal Credit commences.

Commenting on the report, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Dame Anne Begg MP, said:

Through the use of RTI—real-time information on PAYE earnings—Universal Credit has the potential over the longer term to substantially reduce fraud and error in the benefits system. However, this could be seriously undermined because of the uncertainty about how DWP will administer the housing element of Universal Credit without increased risks of fraud and error.

Under the current housing benefit system, local authorities can cross-check claims across a range of data relating to other council services. Unless DWP is able to cross-check Universal Credit claims in a similar way it may be less effective in tackling fraud and error.

It is vital that a fully developed and tested IT system, which allows DWP to cross-check data, is in place before Universal Credit is implemented on a national scale. Worryingly, it appears that there is no automated system in use in the Pathfinders and is not clear when or how a system will be available.”

> It appears that UC has been developed on the basis of  “we dont know how to do something, but we hope we might stumble across a solution before the system is due to go nationwide.”

The official estimated benefit fraud rate is 0.7% of total benefits expenditure. The general public’s misperception is that it is some 34 times higher. To reduce the risk of confusion or conflation in media reporting, DWP should publish statistics relating to the estimated level of benefit fraud on a separate day from those related to error in the benefits system.

> Trouble is, neither the DWP or  elements of the media have any interest in presenting the true picture. They want to encourage the skivers image.

Dame Anne Begg MP said:

Statistics relating to benefit fraud are often conflated in media reporting with those relating to error; and people’s perceptions of the level of benefit fraud are completely out of kilter with the official estimate. This is not helped by the Government publishing all of the statistics simultaneously. Whilst we understand that the boundary between claimant error and fraud is not always clear, we believe that publishing separate summaries of estimated fraud and error rates would be helpful.”

On progress towards fraud and error reduction targets

Fraud and error rates have plateaued from 2005/06 to 2012/13, despite an “uncompromising” and “zero tolerance” approach announced by the coalition Government. DWP will only meet the target set in 2010, to reduce the estimated overpayment rate to no more than 1.7% by April 2015, if it employs innovative approaches which are aligned with the known risk factors associated with each benefit.

Dame Anne Begg MP said:

Despite DWP devoting considerable effort and resources to fraud and error reduction, rates have hardly changed since 2005/06 and estimated overpayments remain at around 2% of total benefit expenditure. If the ambitious target is to be met, innovative approaches are needed, not more of the same.”

On innovative ways of tackling fraud and error

DWP and HMRC should explore, with the Payments Council and the banking sector, the feasibility of establishing a system which flags up potentially incorrect benefits and Tax Credits payments, using data held by payments systems operators and banks on the types of payments due to enter individual bank accounts.

In the longer term biometric identity systems could have an important role to play in identity verification processes across government. The Cabinet Office is working on a government-wide system; the Government should evaluate the benefits of biometric identity verification in the social security system and more widely across public services.

Dame Anne Begg MP said:

DWP should adopt a secure and consistent approach to public and private sector data-sharing. This should include exploring the feasibility of a system that uses data held by banks and payment system operators to identify potentially incorrect benefit payments.

The Government should also carefully consider innovative identity verification technology, such as the voice-recognition system now used in Australian public services.”

On the implementation of the Single Fraud Investigation Service (SFIS)

The Committee recommends that SFIS, a DWP-run service which will investigate all social security benefit fraud across DWP, HMRC and local authorities, be implemented, as far as is practicable, in line with the roll out of Universal Credit. The Government’s current timetable for SFIS implementation would see responsibility for Housing Benefit fraud investigations transfer from local authorities to DWP before the Department plans to take responsibility for housing costs support under Universal Credit across the country.

Dame Anne Begg MP said:

“SFIS is, in principle, a good idea but it makes no sense to rush its implementation, ahead of the roll out of Universal Credit. As far as possible SFIS and Universal Credit implementation should be aligned, otherwise there could be increased risks of fraud in relation to housing costs support. The Government also needs to pause to allow negotiations with local government and the relevant trade unions about the transfer of staff into DWP.”

Source – Welfare News Service, 15 May 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/universal-credit-lead-increased-risk-benefit-fraud-say-work-pensions-committee/