Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Development of Social Welfare Services.

20.

asked the Minister for Social Welfare if he is satisfied with the level of courtesy and efficiency in dealing with social welfare applicants in all areas of his Department; the plans he has to improve the delivery of services provided by his Department to social welfare applicants.

I recognise that the courtesy and expertise of the staff is a major element in the service provided by my Department and I will keep training and staff development in general continually under review.

In general, I am satisfied with the level of courtesy and efficiency of my Department in dealing with social welfare applicants. In fact, a recent survey of social welfare claimants carried out by market research consultants on behalf of the Department found a considerable majority satisfied with payment procedures. The courtesy and politeness of staff was highly regarded. A considerable majority of those who had contact with officials considered that they know their jobs well and that the various forms were not perceived as formidable or difficult.

The separate management structure introduced at the end of 1985 allows the Department's executive office, known as the social welfare services office, to concentrate on the efficiency of the delivery of services. A more formal management system has been introduced with the emphasis on target setting and personal responsibility of line managers for achieving results. Despite the enormous increase in workload in recent years, there has been a gradual improvement in the level of service. For example, the average time taken to process claims has fallen, as has the time taken to issue replies to representations from public representatives.

The administrative procedures are kept under continual review with a view to improving efficiency and providing a better service to claimants. There is an ongoing programme of computerisation which has been developed at a rapid rate in recent years to the extent that there are now some one million claims on computer. There are plans to computerise the unemployment payments schemes over the next few years as resources permit. The computerisation programme to date has introduced considerable improvements into the efficiency of the Department's service and has enabled it to cope with a massive increase in workload.

Many of the Department's services are already available to the public at local level and the question of whether some or all of the services which are at present administered centrally should be provided at a local level is under examination. The Department are conscious of the need to provide as much information as possible in relation to their services on a localised basis. With this in mind, a computerised inquiry service has been provided in a number of local offices throughout the country and this is being extended as circumstances permit.

Ar there any guidelines for members of the Minister's staff, who are dealing directly with the public, in regard to courtesy and efficiency? Is there any training in these matters?

Yes, there are training programmes and the matters to which the Deputy referred are included.

That concludes Question Time.