He set out plans which will assist the agency to achieve its vision of paying the right money to the right person at the right time, every time. Work is already underway in the areas of streamlining benefits processes and developing new information technology. Today's announcement supplies details of the third element - further private sector involvement in the agency's work.
In the first of these new initiatives the private sector will be invited to submit proposals for taking on the work of the Child Benefit Centre in the North East.This will involve the payment of Child Benefit, One Parent Benefit and Guardian's Allowance. The agency's aim is that staff working in these areas will be taken on by the appointed contractor.
The second initiative will involve three private companies - or consortia - appointed following an open competition to work in conjunction with the Benefits Agency in running benefit delivery in three of the thirteen geographical areas - East London and Anglia, the West Country, and Yorkshire.
'These are big steps forward for the Benefits Agency' said Peter Mathison today. 'And will complement the existing skills, experience and commitment of the staff and managers in the Benefits Agency. Coming from the private sector myself, I know that they compare very favourably with their counterparts in that sector.
'We can learn a lot by involving the private sector in the development and delivery of our frontline business - the payment of social security benefits - in particular, the manner in which work processes can be restructured and information technology can be developed.
'This is also good news for our customers. We have made great strides in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of benefit payments since the organisation was launched in 1991. Links between the public and private sectors, where ideas and initiatives work to mutual advantage, will undoubtedly move us closer towards our primary aim - the right money, to the right person, at the right time; every time.
'Furthermore, I would stress that the private companies appointed will be working to the Benefits Agency. We will monitor progress on their work, ensure targets are being met and work together to achieve greatest value for money for the taxpayer.
'We will also ensure that confidential information we receive from customers when making a claim for benefit will remain secure and be used for benefit purposes only.
'These moves are essential and will genuinely combine the public and private sectors when it comes to administering and paying social security benefits - taking the best from both worlds to provide a forward-looking and responsive service.'
In the first initiative the private sector will be invited to submit proposals to take on the Child Benefit operation in Washington, Tyne and Wear. A successful contractor would be expected to work with, and to, the Benefits Agency, with emphasis on areas such as business processes, work management and information technology, aiming to identify more efficient and effective methods for the delivery of the benefits. The three companies appointed to work in conjunction with the Benefits Agency in running the three geographical areas are likely to begin their contracts around April 1997 following an open competition. They will then work for around 12 months to provide a learning phase for all parties and allow the Agency to look at the quality of the companies' ideas and work patterns.
All three companies will be assisting the Agency with the development of new business processes and information technology. They will be invited during the 12-month period to submit proposals for any elements of the agency's business which could be run differently, including the possibility of further parts of the operation being run by the private sector.