It started in the North East, where the loss of jobs in the steel industry has had knock-on effects. The programme followed a 42-year-old redundant professional to the Jobcentre. Here, it picked up the fact that most of the local job vacancies advertised are either not local at all or are entirely spurious. Figures for vacancies are being fiddled with "speculative" jobs. Zero hours jobs are still being advertised in disguised form, although outlawed. It was said that many employers will not advertise vacancies through the Jobcentres because they are seen as serving the bottom end of the skills market; and private recruitment agencies would object to losing upmarket vacancies to JCP. Jim Knight MP stated that JCP has the largest jobs database in Europe, and he's aware of the issues.
The programme visited a Jobcentre in Birmingham, where the manager is proud of the transformation the service has undergone. But a client, a former PR man, spoke of spending 3 or 4 hours a day looking for work and not getting any help or support. He found that other people were being offered training courses etc., but he wasn't. He wants to start his own business but nobody at the Jobcentre knew what help was available. He found out himself that there was a course of training. JCP, said the interviewer to the manager, has been criticised for being unresponsive to the needs of professionals. Things are getting better, said the manager - and then a Press Officer for the DWP intervened.
Consumer Focus has been equally critical of the service. The DWP produced a customer charter, but CF says that this has not improved things. Jim Knight said that JCP staff have been increased by 16,000 in the recession, but the system needs to adapt. A Professor Finn (an adviser) said that JCP has had to re-tool, but new services are fairly minimal. The government thinks people should be able to look after themselves in the early stages of unemployment.
The programme then turned to the rising numbers of long-term unemployed, and the fact that welfare-to-work is run by the private sector. It called FND the big brother of New Deal (and here the lack of a historical perspective was irritating). Payment by results means that much of the risk has been shifted onto providers; and managers on the ground have to make decisions about who to help. The report of the enquiry we reported on the other day was cited; it complained about the "creaming and parking" going on. This was linked to the numbers of people who had been shifted from Incapacity Benefit onto JSA. A Liberal Democrat member of the committee, Jenny Willott, said that because no one is close to hitting their targets the people who are most likely to find work are being pushed into the first job which comes up. She said that the DWP doesn't have a clue what is going on, and that a better breakdown of the figures is needed, and better oversight.
The ERSA (the trade body for the providers) declined to put anyone up for interview, but in a statement said that the providers wanted more money to help the most difficult cases. Jim Knight was not concerned about the lack of safeguards, and was happy with the customer charter. The Personalised Employment Programme will test a new model of payment. The programme concluded with a look at the policies of the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, but both intend to adjust rather than scrap the private provider model. There is more pain to come, particularly as public sector jobs go.
All this makes an announcement by the DWP even more startling. Reported on the Indus Delta site, it says that they have reduced by half the numbers of people expected on the FND Phase 2 contracts, and has asked the bidders for their revised pricing proposals. No one can make out how they have arrived at these revised figures.