“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which” ~ Animal Farm, Chapter 10 by Orwell
The Huffington Post UK | By Chris Wimpress Posted: 06/06/2012
A former Labour minister in the Department of Work and Pensions has cautioned against drawing links between unpaid Diamond Jubilee stewards forced to sleep rough at the weekend and the government’s flagship Work Programme.
Stephen Timms, whose ministerial career in Labour governments included stints at DWP and the Treasury, said that while he was a fierce critic of the Work Programme in general, he didn’t think the incident was a fair reflection on what the coalition was trying to achieve.
“There are many, many problems with the work programme, but I don’t think this incident last weekend tells us very much about what’s happening with the work programme,” he told us.
Timms said while there were serious questions surrounding the practices of both Close Protection UK and the charity which supplied the work experience staff, the “over-riding principle” of allowing welfare to work providers a high degree of autonomy was sensible.
Close Protection UK was supplied the unpaid workers by a charity, Tomorrow’s People, which has been running since 1984. The charity has launched an internal investigation into how their volunteers were made to sleep under London Bridge and denied access to toilet facilities during a long shift on Sunday.
“Tomorrow’s People will only get payment if these young people get jobs in the Olympics or at some later stage in the year. I think that’s a reasonably sensible way of doing things,” he told The Huffington Post on Wednesday.
Timms dismissed suggestions of a causal link between the Work Programme and the unfair treatment of the volunteers at the weekend, saying the questions were for Tomorrow’s People to answer. “How much was this company paid, who were the people making the promises, and how were they vetted?” Timms wondered.
But when asked about whether the incident showed flaws in the so-called “black-box” approach to the Work Programme – where job providers have a large amount of discretion in how they get people into work – Timms said: “I don’t actually see that it tells us anything about that.”
His comments appear to run partially contrary to claims made by Lord Prescott on Monday morning, who called for an investigation into whether the Work Programme was essentially the government exploiting “cheap labour.”
However Timms told us he agreed that Prescott was correct to highlight concerns that unpaid volunteers would lack the training which would bring them into line with industry standards.
And while Timms told HuffPost: “The principle that providers on the Work Programme should be paid if they get people into jobs is quite a sound one,” he suggested the government’s flagship workfare project was at risk of failing later this year because the projections for it had been drawn up when the labour market was much healthier.
“All those were based on a labour market that was much better than the current one. The government says it doesn’t matter if people go bust because they won’t get paid. The problem is that’s not helping unemployed people,” Timms told us.
Last week the Employment Minister Chris Grayling tried to paint a positive gloss on the number of people who’d found a job through the Work Programme, amid concerns that the take-up rate was levelling off. Grayling warned Work Programme providers they would be replaced if they didn’t pull their socks up, and suggested that some would end up going bust because they weren’t delivering what the government wanted.
“The Work Programme was never piloted, they just introduced it nationwide,” Timms said. “Some of the problems we’ll see later in the year are problems that could’ve been ironed out if they’d been trialled.
“They were in a rush, they were naive, they didn’t understand how to change things, frankly, in government,” he added.
Timms also warned that problems at the DWP were stacking up, telling Huffpost that the universal credit was generating a “humungous” IT headache for ministers. But he said that while the government still had wriggle-room for a partial U-turn on universal credit, abandoning the Work Programme was physically impossible, if not politically.
“With universal credit they could half implement it, so they’ve just enough to claim they have introduced it on-time, but on the Work Programme they’ve got nowhere to go. They scrapped everything that existed beforehand, and they are lumbered with the problems that are going to ensue,” he predicted.
Solomon Hughes writes:
The story of the 80 unemployed men and women who were signed on to the government’s Work Programme for the unemployed, then bussed from Plymouth and Bristol to steward the Queen’s jubilee celebrations has spread wide since campaigners blew the whistle.
The “trainees”, many working without wages, were told to sleep under London Bridge before their shift and billeted in a boggy campsite after their shift. In between they had to change into uniforms in public and got inadequate food and toilet facilities.
So who was behind this cheap, nasty exploitation?
But ultimate responsibility lies with a massive company called Prospects Services. Its £76 million turnover comes almost entirely from government contracts.
Department for Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith didn’t want to deal with small firms or charities for his Work Programme, so the huge government contracts go to a small group of big firms called the “primes.”
Prospects Services has the £50m prime Work Programme contract for the South-West.
Prospects then subcontracted some of its “trainees” to the charity Tomorrow’s People. It in turn got a small Lancashire security company with a weak financial history, Close Protection UK, to drag the trainees up to the jubilee.
This mess of subcontracting is one reason Work Programme trainees are at risk of bad treatment. But it doesn’t free Prospects Services of responsibility. It takes the money and must take the blame.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) pays contractors a £400 “attachment fee” for each unemployed person on the Work Programme.
The DWP then pays bounties of £4,000 to over £12,000 a head when the unemployed get and keep jobs.
Prospects Services takes a cut of this cash before handing over the unemployed to Tomorrow’s People.
At one point Prospects Services was proud of the jubilee trip. It rushed out a press release about its Work Programme trainees “making a trip to London to take up duties as stewarding staff at Buckingham Palace,” saying how Prospects was “helping our jobseekers with fantastic job opportunities and for them to be part of these really exciting events. Congratulations to everyone taking part.”
It now says it will “will carry out a full investigation” of the trip “following adverse press reports”.
The fact that it heard about the appalling treatment from the newspapers rather than its own trainees is itself shocking.
The firm that makes so much cash from the government doesn’t seem to talk to the people in its care.
Prospects made £12.6 million profit last year, all from the taxpayer.
The firm’s annual report says its “principle activity” is “the provision of a range of education, training and employment services” to government departments.
In 1995 Prospects was basically the south London schools careers service.
Thanks to privatisation, it has been transformed into a massive company squeezing cash out of the government. By taking over school inspections, careers services and “benefit-busting” schemes it has grown massively.
Prospects boss Ray Auvray, a former school careers adviser and one-time Lib Dem councillor, now earns £193,354 a year.
Prospects says its “employment and training business performed extremely well” by “using innovative methods to tackle worklessness.”
But when Ofsted inspected its schemes for the unemployed, it was less enthusiastic.
Ofsted didn’t give any of the eight Prospects schemes it inspected a top mark. Two were graded “good,” but six got the second-lowest possible mark.
They were marked “satisfactory” – a grade Ofsted now describes as “requires improvement.” Two of these originally got the lowest grade, “unsatisfactory.”
In 2006 Prospects’ “Nextstep” outreach programme for the London unemployed was marked “unsatisfactory.”
Inspectors found that “too few clients move into learning and employment following their advice sessions.”
It slammed the service, saying: “The overall effectiveness of provision at London North Nextstep is inadequate. Achievements, standards and the quality of provision are inadequate. Leadership and management are inadequate, as is quality improvement.”
In 2007 inspectors found Prospects’ Somerset New Deal scheme “unsatisfactory.”
The firm managed to improve to “satisfactory” by 2008 but inspectors still found “low job outcome rates” and “insufficient programme planning to meet individual participants’ needs.”
Even “satisfactory” services looked weak. In 2010 inspectors looked at its Nextstep outreach scheme for the unemployed in London.
They gave the scheme the second-lowest mark – “satisfactory” – adding: “The progress outcome rate for gaining employment overall has been consistently low.”
A reinspection in 2011 found some progress for trainees but “the proportion entering employment remains low.”
Despite these poor results, Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling gave Prospects the £50m Work Programme contract for the South-West.
Prospects doesn’t have to worry about inspections any more – Grayling also stopped inspectors looking at the scheme.
Prospects now works inside what Grayling calls the “black box”: Ministers believe contractors should be allowed to work on trainees without government interference.
They think simple financial incentives will make contractors get the unemployed into jobs.
So ministers don’t want to look inside the contractors black box. But, with the lights out, contractors like Prospects Services let the unemployed be treated in dark and dismal ways.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The few times researchers have been allowed to compare the performance of jobcentre staff with contractors like Prospects, they found jobcentre folk performed better.
Some should be invested in actually creating jobs. A billion invested in building houses would do more for jobs than a billion thrown at Prospects or A4e.
If we really want to address joblessness, we need to sack these contractors.