Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Can We Fix It?

"Despite this being the 10th consecutive year I have qualified these accounts, there is an initiative on the part of the Agency to rectify or at least lessen the extent of my qualification."

So said the Child Support Agency's auditor in their 2004/05 Report And Accounts. Any private business in such a state would of course have been closed down long ago.

During the brief period when he managed to hold down the job of Work and Pensions Secretary, Shagger Blunkett grasped the nettle:

"None of us can be in any doubt that the CSA, over many years, has not delivered. It has been a complete shambles and I am absolutely determined that we are going to do something about it."

And today the CSA jolly well found out what Tony intends to do about it. Er...well, more precisely "sources have told BBC's political correspondent the decision to sell-on the massive arrears has been taken "in principle". Details of the reforms are still being finalised."

In other words, the shambles continues, but Tony wanted another eye-catching leak he could be associated with, and which conceivably might make any extremely naive four years olds listening believe their support is finally on the way. (Incidentally, do make sure you watch/video C4's hilarious looking Tony Blair Rockumentary tomorrow)

What exactly would "selling on" those £3.3bn of arrears mean? Presumably they have in mind going to a debt factor who will advance say 80% of the debts right away, chase up the debtors, and then let the CSA have the rest as it's collected. Less admin charges and expenses of course. Which in this case could be on the large side, particularly if in tracking down those errant Dads, the factor has to engage any Sarf London gents with baseball bats.

They're also supposedly going to switch the task of collecting regular child support payments from the CSA across to the new Revenue and Customs agency. But they are the very people already sinking under the weight of Gordo's nightmarish tax credits. Can they possibly take on anything else? Needless to say, the switch "is being described within government as a "preferred option" - though not finally settled, and still being debated within Whitehall".

In other words, there is no plan at all. There's a Whitehall report setting out various options. But no actual plan in the sense of "we've made decsions and this is precisely what's going to be done".

In fact, all that has been achieved by today's leak of more half-baked pie in the sky is a further undermining of morale among the 12,000 poor benighted souls who work at the CSA. As their Chief Executive said in his most recent Business Plan:

"Last year the morale of our staff was badly affected by the disappointment of not being able to move as effectively as we had planned. This concern and disquiet was reflected in our Staff Attitude Survey. This year we will increase our efforts to develop our managers as leaders and coaches and continue to develop within our team leaders ‘real time’ performance management skills."

And despite the fact he was going to have to fire 2,000 of his demoralised staff to meet Gordo's arbitrary Gershon efficiency target, he gave them this personal commitment:

"The Chief Executive maintains an ‘open door’ e-mail facility in which staff can (and do) contact him on any issue."

His name was Doug Smith. And he resigned shortly after signing this Plan.

PS Just found an interesting new (to me) site: Child Support Analysis seems to be a one-man thinktank on this area. Interesting to see what they put up on Tony's leak.

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