HC Deb 24 January 2001 vol 361 cc632-3W
Mr. Patrick Hall

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he has made a decision on the future of the Insolvency Service. [147366]

Dr. Howells

The first stage of the Insolvency Service's quinquennial review has now been completed. I am pleased to say that the review found the Insolvency Service customer-focused and responsive. The standard of the service's work has improved significantly and is well regarded. The service has exceeded or met most of its performance objectives. It has contributed to the achievement of wider Government objectives and is effective in providing policy advice to Ministers. Its standards of customer service are very high. The service has taken a proactive approach to customer satisfaction with many initiatives to identify and meet customer needs. This has been recognised by awards including Chartermark, Investors in People and Plain Language Commission accreditation for its leaflets.

The Insolvency Service will continue as an executive agency of the DTI. The current functions of the service form a coherent block that benefit from being managed as a whole. The review found that agency status was widely thought to have worked well.

Customer needs and continuing efficiency will remain priorities for the service and will be taken forward in response to the Government's modernising agenda. The review supports the service in meeting these objectives by making recommendations relating to options for funding, benchmarking, selective tendering, reorganisation, and clarifying its advisory role. These include: Reviewing The Service's current funding regime to establish the most appropriate means of financing and delivering future services to the benefit of customers. Identifying benchmarking partners to ensure The Service's operations continue to offer quality and cost-effective services. Through selective tendering inviting private sector partners to carry out some of the service's investigation work relating to potential director disqualification. Addressing issues of recruitment and retention by investigating the scope for centralising some administrative functions in areas of lower growth and high unemployment, taking advantage of IT and modern communications technology. Reviewing the scope for using new technology to reduce the costs of accommodation, achieve economies of scale in administrative work and at the same time get closer to customers by remote working and the establishment of regional centres of expertise. Working to ensure the service's role in the area of advice to business and individuals is appropriately defined and joined up with those who already provide this advice in government and elsewhere. Continued development of the service's research function to enhance policy advice and operational strategy. Reviewing the continuing need for the Secretary of State (rather than authorised professional bodies) to authorise individual Insolvency Practitioners, thereby freeing the service to oversee the regulatory framework for Insolvency Practitioners and effectiveness of their Recognised Professional Bodies.

Stage 2 of the review is now starting and will consider whether any changes should be made to the way in which the Insolvency Service operates, including its aims and objectives, targets and financial controls.