Latest Public Administration Disaster

“The reform of the Child Support Agency has been one of the greatest public administration disasters of recent times.
The facts speak for themselves. More than one in three non-resident parents fail to pay any of the money they owe, amounting to £3.5 billion in uncollected maintenance. Around 230,000 of the almost 250,000 cases where a parent isn’t complying have not been handed to the enforcement arm of the Agency. And 275,000 cases are stuck in the system and so going nowhere."
Thus spake the Public Accounts Committee Chairman (above) today on the publication of their latest damning report on the catastrophic Child Support Agency.

We've blogged the CSA many times (eg see here, here, and here), so not much in the PAC report is actually new. But it is still a grim catalogue of fantasy policy promises finding expression in total operational failure.

The facts are that the CSA employs about 10,000, and costs us some £0.3bn pa. And ever since its inception in 1993 it has been a case-study in public sector inefficiency: from its fearsomely complex rules, to its lack of proper implementation and follow-through, to its failed mega IT development (£0.5bn and still not working properly), to its rock-bottom staff morale and rocketing staff turn-over (over 20% pa). It costs us 70 pence for every £1 it collects.

One group that has been doing well out of the CSA, of course, is the consultants. Since 2001, the Agency's been running a last chance reform programme, which is the actual subject of this PAC report. It's so far cost £539m, and been a total flop. But £91m of it has at least gone to some of BOM's old consulting friends:

It's an ill-wind...

PS The CSA is part of the Department for Work and Pensions, Britain's biggest spending department (£132.7bn in 2007-08). The new Secretary of State is the Peter Hain, and frankly the chance of him gripping the problem is close to zero. Previous incumbent John Hutton lasted about the average tenure (just 17 months), and did little but announce the intended end of the CSA. It will apparently be replaced by something that works, but sadly he gave no clues how that might be achieved. Connoisseurs of irony will also note that the incumbent when the current hopeless £0.5bn reform programme was launched was none other than Mr A Darling. Who's now of course been given the chance to burn some real money.

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