Below is the text of Mr Major’s written Parliamentary Answer on Computerisation on 29th April 1986.
Mr. Ashdown Asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on progress on computerisation within his Department.
Mr. Major An outline of the Department’s plans for computerising social security benefits work was published in September 1982 with the issue of “Social Security Operational Strategy – A framework for the future” (copies of the publication are held in the Library). We envisage the progressive installation over the coming years of a network of mainframe computers linked to visual display terminals in every local office. Existing mainframes will be replaced as they approach the end of their natural life cycle, or built on where it is sensible and economic to do so. New systems will be built for benefits where no computer support exists at the moment.
The computerisation strategy is comprised of a series of separate projects, some of which have already reached the implementation stage. For example, in local unemployment benefit offices the teletype terminals linking them to the ICL 2966 mainframe computers at the Reading and Livingston national unemployment benefit computer centres are being replaced. The new system provides for Honeywell visual display units to be installed which will be linked to the computer centres by British Telecom Packet Switchstream Service. Two hundred and sixty-eight terminals have been delivered, out of an eventual national total of 844. Seventy-nine offices are now converted, and approximately 10 offices a week will be added on a rolling programme which is scheduled for completion in October 1987.
In local social security offices assistance in the short term is being provided by the wide-scale introduction of microcomputers for some of the most difficult and laborious supplementary benefit tasks. British Telecom microcomputers have already been installed in the majority of the 450 offices scheduled, with the full agreement of the departmental trade union side. Completion and full running of the three separate micro applications in all offices is expected by the summer.
In the longer term the local office project (LOP) will link social security offices into a national network and provide mainframe computer support for the assessment and payment of supplementary benefit income support and incapacity benefits. Approval has been given for a prototype to be established at a development centre at Lytham in 1988. If successful, three new area computer centres will be constructed and national implementation of the project will begin in 1989.
Approval has also been given for the establishment of a departmental central index which will begin to provide indexing and tracing facilities for local office staff in 1988. Other projects, providing on-line access via visual display units for local office staff to existing mainframes dealing with child benefit, retirement pensions and contributions, are at the planning stage.