Ministers dismiss Field as `hollow'

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The Independent Online
FRANK FIELD, once seen as standard-bearer for the Blair welfare revolution, was yesterday effectively cast out by the Labour establishment following his ministerial resignation - as the new Secretary of State for Social Security promised a raft of reforms to pensions and benefits.

In a virtually unprecedented move, Downing Street made a direct criticism of Mr Field, once one of Mr Blair's most trusted advisers on welfare. Number10 declared that he had "produced a lot of thinking, but there is a difference between doing that and generating workable policy". A spokesman added that he "did not leave over policy but because he only wished to serve in the Cabinet".

Alastair Darling, who replaced the former Secretary of State, Harriet Harman, in last Monday's Cabinet reshuffle, promised to act where Mr Field had failed to produce concrete proposals. He said: "The Government is going to be judged by results, not rhetoric. Of course this is an area where there needs to be a debate and discussion, but the point comes where you have to implement reform."

In private, one senior ex-ministerial colleague of Mr Field went much further, arguing that the former minister was a "disgrace", and that he had been found to be "hollow". "There was," he added, "not much that was practical or feasible to implement. His Green Paper went through a number of drafts and in the end had to be rewritten in Downing Street." Another source suggested that the ex-minister might now face re-selection, as he did before the 1992 election.

The bitterness of the attacks marks the end of a remarkable, but short- lived, liaison between Tony Blair and Mr Field, widely seen as one of the most creative thinkers on welfare reform.

Mr Darling, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told the Independent on Sunday that the Treasury had not, as Mr Field suggested, blocked his plans. Mr Darling also made it clear that he was surprised by the lack of concrete proposals put forward by the former minister.

Mr Field hit back in an interview in today's Sunday Telegraph in which he attacked the Treasury's plans for a Working Families Tax Credit which, he said, would be a "powerful incentive for fiddling the system".

Plans for a means-tested minimum pension would, he added, "send out a powerful message that if you don't save and instead spend all your money, the guaranteed pension will still be there waiting for you. It is a corrupting influence on people."

However, Mr Darling made clear his determination that "the DSS regains its strategic sense of direction". He promised also to outline his immediate priorities for welfare reform, which will be fleshed out over the summer.

They include pension reform, with measures to encourage more people to make their own provision. In a Green Paper expected in the autumn Mr Darling will outline plans to modernise the system by making pensions more portable He also hopes to establish a cross-party consensus on the direction of change to remove any insecurity felt by contributors.

Another key area is a revamp of disability benefits, with tougher "gateways" to ensure that only those who are genuinely disabled can claim.