Still no fixed date for beleaguered CSA chief to quit

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Indy Politics

The head of the beleaguered Child Support Agency (CSA) is still in his job three months after the Government suggested he had resigned, and no date has been fixed for his departure.

The revelation that Douglas Smith was still in his post has provoked anger among MPs who accused Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, of prematurely announcing his departure in an effort to deflect difficult questions about the CSA.

Mr Johnson told MPs on 17 November last year: "I should tell you that Doug has decided that now is the time to stand aside and to allow a new chief executive to tackle the challenges ahead."

Yesterday, the Department of Work and Pensions confirmed Mr Smith was still in his job. A spokeswoman said a shortlist of replacements had been drawn up and interviews would take place shortly. But she could give no date for when a new chief executive would take over - and conceded the department could face a substantial wait until Mr Smith's successor worked out his or her notice.

David Willetts, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: "His departure was announced last November as evidence that the Government was taking it seriously and tackling the problem. Three months on he hasn't gone and the problems at the CSA are as bad as ever. They still haven't got the new computers to work properly. So this is just further evidence that the whole problem is drifting. It's not being gripped."

Speaking on Radio 4's World at One, he accused Mr Johnson of making the announcement to "defuse" criticism.

But Mr Johnson said yesterday: "Doug Smith has been in the Civil Service for over 40 years. He has asked to retire at some point in the new year, when he will have served for more than four years in his present post."

The CSA's problems have deepened since a new £456m computer system was installed in 2003, resulting in a huge backlog of cases, and delays in payments to single parents. It now takes between 15 and 22 weeks to calculate maintenance payments and more than 500,000 parents are owed a total of £75m. More than £1bn of arrears has been written off as unrecoverable.

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