We learned last week that DWP press officers were to be sent on a statistics course this summer, following the outpouring of dodgy and downright untrue figures, designed to prove whatever Iain Duncan Smith wants to believe. On Tuesday the man himself appeared before the Work & Pensions Select Committee, but the topic was the non-progress of Universal Credit. It seemed to many of us that he was not to be answerable for misleading the public; but it's now been confirmed that he will appear before the committee on 4 September to answer questions on the DWP's annual report and on the Department's use of statistics. It will be interesting; but if his performance on Monday in the Today programme interview is any guide, it will be entirely unproductive.
There's a report out today on the whole subject of outsourcing. It's by the Institute for Government, a think-tank which seems to be genuinely non-partisan. It is summarised in the Independent, which headlines it as "the great outsourcing scandal". The report uses the Work Programme as one of its four sectors for examination, and comes up with the (hardly startling) opinion that there is a lot of "creaming and parking" going on. They say that they "found companies regularly playing the system to ensure they made money....... Providers were also cutting costs by using 'group sessions' and telephone calls rather than face-to-face contact." Yes, well, I think we knew that. The IfG's recommendation is disappointing: "The Government should set minimum performance levels, and punish poor performers by imposing penalties or terminating contracts entirely." The authors are apparently unaware that there are minimum performance levels, and there are supposed to be penalties. They miss the point that government has no wish to proclaim its own failure by punishing its contractors.
It's a timid report which, despite a few sensible points, misses some of the crucial dangers of outsourcing.