COMPANIES and charities that give placements to the unemployed under the UK Government’s controversial unpaid work schemes have been granted anonymity.
Protest groups targeting Mandatory Work Activity and other programmes. are being blamed for a decision to keep secret the names of a dwindling band of companies still willing to provide work placements under the flagship employability schemes.
Since the beginning of the year, The Herald has been asking for the names of the companies providing placements in Scotland under the controversial schemes, branded as “forced labour” by protest groups, which require those on benefits to take up voluntary work, unpaid placements or lose their support.
The request was initially turned down on the basis of commercial confidentiality. The Herald challenged the decision on the grounds that similar lists had already been published for the south-east and north-west regions of England, and the decision was therefore hard to justify.
Yesterday, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed its initial decision. While admitting its stance appeared inconsistent, the Government said high-profile demonstrations against some of the companies involved had led it to change its position.
In a letter, the department said: “The DWP acknowledges there is a public interest in organisations involved in providing work placements for the work programme; we have in fact released this information following previous FoI [Freedom of Information] requests.
“More recently however, we have become aware of various campaigns aimed at harming the commercial interests of companies involved in delivering the work programme as well as a potentially undermining Government policy.
“For that reason the department will not comply with further FoI requests to release information about companies who provide, or have provided, work placements.”
Tom Greatrex, Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, said: “It beggars belief the DWP is refusing this information simply because the glare of publicity has brought to light the chaos at the heart of its work experience programme.
“To blame campaign groups for Government failures is clutching at straws. For transparency in government to be obstructed to protect the commercial interests of large companies is wrong. The Government must come clean.”
Mark Dunk, of campaign group Right to Work, said: “This is another sign that the Government is more interested in protecting the commercial interests of those involved in making profit off the backs of more than one million unemployed young people in Britain.”
The Herald is appealing against the decision to the UK Information Commissioner.