Weblog archive for January 2005

3rd January 2005

Freedom of Information - the Act begins

This is simply a reminder of what most readers probably know. The Freedom Of Information Act has just come into force. Long delayed, massively watered down, decades later than many other nations, but at least we now have one.

The article below appears to say what is important. Let us know if you have success - good and bad news will be published here.

13th January 2005

EDS to be given more business at Child Support Agency

If true, the mind boggles! From the Guardian:

It beggars belief the agency is rewarding a company that has failed to deliver ... The move is a major shift from EDS's core work, and raises serious questions about involvement of the private sector in delivery and management of public services. 

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS civil service union

The agency's problems start and end with the computer system. 

Patricia Hollis, CSA minister

The US giant blamed for the biggest computer crash in government history has approval to extend a £450m Child Support Agency contract.

The work and pensions secretary, Alan Johnson, is permitting EDS to jointly manage a CSA claims processing centre, despite wide criticism of technology installed by the Texas-based corporation. A confidential EDS report seen by the Guardian details how it is to co-run the CSA complex in Accrington, covering north-west England and Wales.

EDS was "fined" £12.1m for CSA computer faults partly responsible for seven in eight parents getting incorrect payments. In November 80,000 of Mr Johnson's department's 100,000 computers, operated by EDS and Microsoft, went down in what was described as the public sector's most extensive failure. Accrington is one of a dozen centres nationwide, and EDS hopes it will produce "practices that can be deployed more widely across the CSA for improving operational productivity".

18th January 2005

Freedom Of Information details on the CSA web site

The DWP approach to the release of information is a positive one; based on the assumption that information will normally be made available unless it is specifically exempt under the Act and where disclosure is not in the public interest. 

CSA web site

Following the item here about the Freedom Of Information Act, the CSA has published how to go about making a request to them. They also point out that personal information is supplied under the Data Protection Act, not the Freedom Of Information Act.

19th January 2005

Child access after parental separation - new proposals

This provides some pointers to the new proposals. (They are not that new, and they have already been criticised by some because they don't go far enough). The new proposal is the "Next Steps" of the first link below.

26th January 2005

"The nuclear option"?

This blog has often reported the sayings of MPs and others who have contemplated "the nuclear option" - the elimination of the CSA. Now the report of the Work and Pensions Select Committee has been published, and of course the nuclear option is being aired again.

I have said "The only thing keeping the CSA going is that the government hasn't got something to replace it with". That is probably still true. Sooner or later, the government will realise that that not having a replacement is irrelevant if the CSA doesn't work anyway.

It is very little to do with the computer system, although I am sure this has contributed. It's to do with the rules which are manifestly unfair, and is the reason people ignore them. 

A father who says he has no intention of giving the "unfair" agency a penny

I welcome this report, which reinforces the view that the CSA is beyond repair. The committee has a Labour majority and the Government should take heed of what its own MPs are saying. Families and children have suffered for too long, as successive governments have failed to get a grip on the CSA. It has been patched so many times that it is beyond repair and should now be scrapped. The Inland Revenue already holds information about family incomes and children so could easily take over the assessment of child maintenance. The Inland Revenue would also be far more effective than the CSA at collecting maintenance. 

Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary


House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee; " The Performance of the Child Support Agency"; Second Report of Session 2004–05, Volume I:

We believe the Child Support Agency is a failing organisation which is currently in crisis. Rapid and radical action must be taken in order to provide an acceptable service for the children who are its beneficiaries. The Committee strongly recommends that proposed reductions in the CSA staff levels be suspended until the Agency's Business Transformation programme, including the IT system, is proved to be fully functioning....

The continuing confusion over the state of readiness of the long-delayed IT system should be ended by the Secretary of State making an unequivocal statement to the House, before Easter 2005, on the exact status of the CS2 IT system and setting achievable targets for the completion of the programme of migration and conversion of cases from the old CSA scheme to the new. The National Audit Office should investigate the background to the contract with the DWP's IT suppliers EDS, followed by a debate in the House....

If the responses to our report do not provide the information necessary to make a judgement as to whether the CSA as currently constituted can be rescued, the Committee recommends that consideration be given to the option of winding up the Child Support Agency and plans made for an alternative set of policies that work, in order to provide financial support for children. We also recommend that our successor Committee considers alternative policies in the event of the CSA being wound up.

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