Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 3:09 pm on 4th July 2007.

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Photo of Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Shadow Secretary of State (Cabinet Office) and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 3:09 pm, 4th July 2007

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He makes an important point. The continuation of three systems will be a ball and chain on the new agency. We have heard from the Secretary of State and from the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone about the aspirations for a change of culture, but the ball and chain effect of those old systems will be a serious problem for the new agency to tackle.

There are IT problems and questions about the administrative competence of the organisation. Furthermore, when the CSA was established and again when the 2001 reforms were implemented in 2003, there was over-optimism about how quickly things could change. We have to counter those problems, especially given the fact that in the 1.4 million cases being handled by the CSA, only 455,000 of the 750,000 non-resident parents liable for maintenance actually pay anything. I am deeply concerned that the mistakes may be repeated in the new system, so I counsel the House that the reforms are doomed to failure in meeting the aspirations that have been set out unless there is a rapid change of course to address some of the administrative problems.

Both the Government and the Conservatives made the point that many of the CSA staff are hard working and have a sense of commitment. I associate myself with those remarks. A large number of the staff are trying their best in incredibly difficult circumstances, not least those imposed on them by the system—for example, the phone and IT systems. However, the Secretary of State's justified praise for many CSA staff needs to be put into the context of the Government's plans for significant staffing reductions at the agency. By March 2008, over an 18-month period, there will be a staff reduction of 20 per cent. About 2,000 staff will be taken away from the CSA at a time when I and, I hope, the whole House, would have expected a real effort to be made. To refer to the point made by Mr. Weir, if we are to clear the backlog of cases and get the new agency off to a good start, such a dramatic cut in staff is completely the wrong approach.