Thursday, 22 July 2010

Questions and answers

A4e's Steve Marsland was giving evidence yesterday, along with Chris Melvin of Reed, to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. You can watch it all. The National Audit Office had reported on the results of the Pathways to Work Programme, saying that they were well below the contracted figure, and the terms of the contract had been adjusted to give the providers more money. Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the committee, asked why they had been unable to deliver. Marsland said that they had based their bid on assumptions which were right for the voluntary client group but didn't work well with the mandatory clients. It took quite a bit of questioning to elicit the actual figures. 42% of the voluntary clients had got work, but they only formed 40% of the total. The outcome figure for the mandatory group was 15%. Hodge pointed out to Melvin that they have performed less well than Jobcentre Plus, despite JCP working in tougher areas. She gave Melvin short shtrift when he tried to refute this. Will they be happy, she asked, with more outcome-based payments. Marsland tried to say that the new computer checking system will help, but Hodge pointed out that the NAO had said that these checks are inadequate. What, she asked, were the targets for mandatory clients. Marsland said it was 32%, more than double the figures achieved. Reed's were even worse, between 7% and 10%. Asked why the performance was so poor for this group, Melvin talked about the high drop-out rate. Has the recession had any impact on performance? Marsland said they had no cast-iron evidence that it had. Hodge said that she couldn't see how they think they're going to improve. Did they bid too high? Marsland said no, because outcomes are going up and they are delivering better performance.
I wrote recently about the media treating unemployment as entertainment. A review of episode 2 of "The Fairy Jobmother" on the arts desk website illustrates the point, treating it all as a joke. On the Digital Spy forum there is a comment from a Jobcentre worker which paints a very different picture. I'm tempted to quote it all, but that wouldn't be fair. Apart from the point about salaries, which is dubious, it's an excellent summary.

For a different point of view you could read A4e's Mark Lovell's blog post on welfare reform. It seems to be aimed at potential partners but doesn't tell us much.

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