Mulheirn runs something called the Social Market Foundation - a think tank. It proclaims itself to be "a leading cross-party think tank, developing innovative ideas across a broad range of economic and social policy. We champion policy ideas which marry markets with social justice and take a pro-market rather than free-market approach. Our work is characterised by the belief that governments have an important role to play in correcting market failures and setting the framework within which markets can operate in a way that benefits individuals and society as a whole." Which sounds nice and cuddly. But with think tanks one should always follow the money. Where does their funding come from? They show it on their website. The money comes from a variety of sources, but nearly half of it comes from private business, including Avanta and G4S.
Mulheirn believes that the reason for the apparent failure of the WP is the state of the economy. The minimum performance targets are based on forecasts of growth done in 2010, but these have proved way too optimistic. The providers can't control the labour market. The solution, then, is to:
i) "tone down the proportion of payments made for achieving job outcomes. In the depths of recession, the priority must be to make sure jobseekers get the help they need. For that they need the money to provide it."
ii) "Second, it (the government) should reassess its expectations of what's achievable in a recession, and formally link minimum performance levels to the latest OBR forecast." And
iii) "the government should look at re-engineering the Work Programme so that a large proportion of the payment to providers is based on their performance compared with those of other providers, rather than judging them on inflexible targets and crucifying them when the economy falters."
Mulheirn seems to want a return to something like the on-programme payments of privatised New Deal and FND. That certainly created big profits for the companies but the outcomes were half what they forecast. The money did not go into providing the support or skills training that clients needed. There is no reason to suppose that it would be any different this time. And how would revising down the performance targets help? If the current 5.5% minimum was reduced to, say, 3.5% what is the point of the Work Programme at all? You are just shovelling money into private companies which could be used to create real jobs. As for comparing providers' performance with each other rather than with an objective standard; they have always performed similarly badly. They would go on comfortably doing so.
The comments which follow the Guardian article are mostly very sensible. What a pity that we can't engage Mulheirn in real debate.