Sir David Henshaw is to compile a report into the effectiveness of the CSA
This just in ...
Liverpool's outgoing chief executive announced this week he is to quit his role at the city council in March. Now Sir David has been chosen to compile a major report into the effectiveness of the controversial Child Support Agency. It is understood that he has accepted the job on a part-time basis.
“ Women have just lost it with this service. Its replacement needs to have actual humans picking up the phone, a computer system that works, and they need to churn out letters that actually make sense. ”
Birgit Cunningham of Babies For Justice
“ We tell people to co-operate with the CSA because that's the law, but when people have got an attachment of earnings order [from the CSA] on the one hand and a contact order that's being flouted on the other, you can't blame them for being incandescent over things like tagging. ”
John Baker, chair of the protest group Families Need Fathers
Are these newspapers talking about totally different agencies? (The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has dismissed reports in several newspapers as "speculation", insisting that no details had been released of a review of the agency expected to be announced by Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton this week).
"The plans, however, fall well short of suggestions made by Tony Blair last year that the agency might be abolished altogether.... According to the “operational improvement plan”, seen by The Sunday Times, Hutton plans to change “radically” the way the agency is organised.... Hutton hopes the reforms will lead to a more streamlined CSA".
"The child Support Agency's death warrant will be signed this week.... The independent review, designed to create 'a new body that fulfils a CSA function', will look at making the system more efficient, which could mean making new priorities for cases or changing performance targets".
Before the announcements are made today, here is a summary of what is likely to happen:
For the near future: the existing child support system will be made to work better if possible, building on the recent review by the CSA's CEO, Stephen Geraghty.
For the more distant future: Sir David Henshaw, the out-going Liverpool City Council chief executive, will lead a re-think of the UK's child support system, developing a far more radical reform than the one resulting from Stephen Geraghty's review. (See blog for 3 February 2006).
People are getting confused by these differences. The problem that the government has to address is that the CSA needs urgent attention, but the amount of redesign and legislation needed to make the UK's child support system satisfactory will take years.
The current CSA can't simply be scrapped this year. There is nothing to replace it with. The CSA is the result of several Acts of Parliament, and vast amounts of secondary legislation, enacted over many years. (See blog for 23 January 2006). Trying to hurry through replacement legislation would be a disaster - as this web site states:
"The childsupportagency began in 1993. It failed because of careless law and management incompetence".
It is vitally important not to have any more "careless law"! It is also vitally important to design a system that can be managed satisfactorily. This web site was launched precisely because, in 2001, it was already clear to me that "the new scheme", (based on the 2000 Act), would need to be overhauled and perhaps replaced. Such reform takes lots of time, and governments get pressured into making hasty, and faulty, decisions. So an aim of this web site was to begin the process of analysing what would be needed "when the shit hit the fan"! The only surprises were that the shit hit the fan so quickly, and there was so much of it!
There is little point in summarising what the papers say this close to the announcement. It will almost certainly include the above elements.
A range of tactical improvements covering about 3 years, with a total cost of £489 million, and a net funding requirement of £308 million, spread over 3 years..
A radical review by Sir David Henshaw, with a report to be delivered in summer 2006, to redesign child support in the UK, presumably to take effect sometime in 2009 or later.
"John Hutton today signalled a radical redesign of child support in the UK as well as a package of measures that will get tough on parents who shirk their responsibilities. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said the system of child support in the UK needed to be completely redesigned and could never in its current state be made fit for purpose. He announced that Sir David Henshaw will lead the work to redesign the system.
"But Mr Hutton made clear he would also take steps to improve the level of service experienced by parents using the existing agency. He announced a Child Support Agency improvement plan involving new investment of up to £120 million to clear the backlog of cases, sort out operational problems and get much tougher on parents who do not meet their responsibilities".
However, plans for sanctions such as electronic tagging and community service orders to penalise parents who refuse to comply have been put on hold. This time they really, really, mean they will get tough. Honest!
(Sorry to be cynical. The 10th time ministers say things like that, credibility faulters).
“ Why has Sir David Henshaw been selected? His curriculum vitae shows that his career has been entirely in the public sector.... With an organisation experiencing the degree of failure of the CSA, would it not have been better to have brought in someone who was more of a breath of fresh air and had some private sector discipline and experience? ”
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay
“ Anyone reading Sir David's CV would conclude that he has many qualities. He has an outstanding career in the public sector. ”
CSA stumbles on, waiting for a miracle review from Sir David Henshaw
“ ... the [computer] system would not now be operating to the agreed delivery specifications until the end of 2007. ”
CSA chief executive Stephen Geraghty
The government intends to spend just enough to keep the CSA going until the review by Sir David Henshaw can be put into effect. It won't spend the full amount requested by the CSA's CEO, Stephen Geraghty. And the review by Sir David Henshaw may not be as radical as required.
The CSA is to concentrate on quick fixes to its computer problems rather than long-term solutions. According to the improvement plan, more than 250,000 new cases are still waiting to be cleared and two-thirds of these old cases have not yet been converted to the new rules. Plans to convert all old cases are now on hold, pending Henshaw's recommendations. And rather than addressing the totality of the system's issues, the CSA and EDS are to establish what can be done for maximum benefit in the short term.
There are hints that Sir David Henshaw may have his hands tied by the contract with EDS:
"... pressed by Tory MP Justine Greening on whether he was prepared to pull out of the Government's contract with EDS if Sir David concluded that the system was not "fit for purpose", Mr Hutton made clear that was not an option. "David is not going to, I don't think, be recommending that the Government breaks any contract with any of our suppliers. I don't think that is what I expect him to recommend," he said."
"CSA chief executive Stephen Geraghty told the committee the system would not be operating to the agreed delivery specifications until the end of 2007.... However, with one million cases on the computer and the contract with EDS due to run to 2010, Mr Geraghty said it was not realistic to consider pulling out."