The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Speech by Mr Major at the launch of the Benefit and Contribution Agencies – 10 April 1991

Below is Mr Major’s speech at the launch of the Benefit and Contribution Agencies at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London on Wednesday 10th April 1991.


Thank you very much indeed, Tony [Newton]! I must say it is nice to be back in a DSS context. It does not seem all that long since I left you last time but it has been a fairly eventful period [Laughter] so it is nice to get back to a nice, stable, casual, relaxed outlook [Laughter] which is, of course, entirely how I remember every second of my time at the DSS, whether the weather was hot or cold at that particular moment! [Laughter]

As Tony said, our purpose here this morning is to launch our two Next-Step Agencies and I was delighted to have his invitation to come today because I would like to emphasise the very great importance that we actually place on these Agencies and the job that we are asking them to do.

What we are seeing at the moment – not just with the launch today but with the launch of the earlier Next-Step Agencies and those that are yet to come – is, frankly, nothing less than a revolution in management in the Civil Service that will make it more responsive, more open, more effective, more rewarding for the clientele of the Civil Service’s operations and I think providing a better career structure and a more enjoyable life for Civil Servants themselves, so I think it is a very important series of changes that we are seeing.

There will, by the end of this month, be 50 Next-Step Agencies and by that stage one in every three Civil Servants will work in an Agency – about 200,000 people. That is why I say it is a revolution, a quiet one perhaps, in that it has perhaps sneaked up on people and the public generally without them realising quite what is happening but over the months immediately ahead there will be more Agencies put in place, among them the Inland Revenue, the Valuation Office, the social security Services in Northern Ireland, all very large and very welcome steps forward, and at that stage we will find that Next-Steps will then apply to about one-half of the whole of the Civil Service.

Those statistics I think in some ways are startling but they are not necessarily important in themselves. What I believe is important is what those steps represent and the opportunity that those steps will actually provide: an opportunity, I believe, to give managers and staff far more scope than ever before to achieve greater effectiveness and greater value for money; far greater scope for improving the management of Government services; and above all perhaps far greater scope for what we are there for in the first place – delivering a better service to the customer.

We have seen already some impressive achievements by the Department of Social Security – 97 percent of their particular staff now work under Agency arrangements – and the Benefits Agency that we launched today will be the largest of all the Government Agencies that we have yet seen and the Contributions Agency, in a different way, will be the Agency producing the second largest source of Government revenue after income tax, so I have a particular affection for the work of the Contributions Agency! [Laughter] and I hope they will keep up that good work – I can promise them that we need the revenue that they will be bringing in.

Between them – self-evidently I think but well worth stating nonetheless – those two Agencies with their differing responsibilities affect enormous cross-sections of the community and so the ethos of those two Agencies is especially important if we are to achieve what we are seeking to achieve – and that is the best possible service to the customer.

In terms of an improving and an efficient service, the Department have got up a very impressive speed on organisational change and that is very welcome, but the acid test of course is not just the speed of establishment; the acid test will be to improve the services and then to provide them in the most cost-effective way and that is what we are looking to the Agencies to achieve.

What I would like to say both to all the staff who work in the Agencies and I think the people who will use their services is one thing about which I feel extremely strongly: Agencies in no sense are just another bureaucratic binge of reorganisation – that is not what Agencies are about. They are meant to provide a better service and I believe they will do so and one of their main duties will be to put into practice some of the ideas in the “Citizen’s Charter” as I called it that I spoke about recently and that does mean several things.

It means better accountability to people in the public services that they use in their everyday lives; it means support for the users of services in securing better standards; and it means better quality in every part of the public service. There are no second-class citizens and in my judgement there should be no second-class services, whether in the public or in the private sector, so I am delighted to see that the Agencies have all sorts of initiatives in hand for a more open, more responsive and better service to their customers and it is especially important I think, as reassurance and indication of what is happening, that those targets are published and that annual reports will be published too – and indeed they will by all the Agencies – and I think, like all Agencies, the staff in these two new Agencies today will have a better chance to provide the best possible service and from what recall of the DSS, where I enjoyed greatly the time I spent there, that is actually what the staff who work in the Department and now in the Agencies actually want to do – to produce the best possible service – and that, I believe, is what their clients and their customers have a right to expect of us. I think the new arrangements that we launch today will provide the best possible opportunity for both of those two aims to be met.

Let me emphasise again, both personally and as a Government, we are fully committed to a better public service throughout the entire range of our activities and so I welcome without a shred of reservation the launch of these two further Next-Step Agencies. I hope they will be two more steps towards reaching that particular aim but I think in many ways they are more than that. The launch of these two Agencies is not just two more steps towards a better public service; because of the nature of these Agencies and because of the size and scale of these Agencies and because of the number of people that uniquely these Agencies actually affect, they are in fact two giant strides towards those goals that I set out just a few moments ago. So, Tony, it is for those reasons that I was particularly pleased to be able to join you here and to launch these agencies today.

I am now acutely conscious – in that sensitive manner that politicians develop! [Laughter] – that it is only I who is standing between you and a buffet lunch [Laughter] so I will just add one final sentence: I wish you all the very best of luck in the launch of these Agencies and I wish you – not only the staff but all the customers – a very successful future. It is a good day, I think, for the delivery of services today and I wish you the best of luck in bringing that good day into a good future for public service.

Thank you very much indeed!