At last, we know four of the companies which have won the contracts to deliver the inappropriately named "Help to Work" programme. The Financial Times reveals that they are G4S, Seetec, Interserve and Pertemps. Why it hasn't named the other two, I have no idea, but A4e hasn't said anything, and Serco has launched a rescue rights issue, so perhaps they both lost out. The FT says that G4S is the biggest winner. It also says: "It comes less than three weeks after the British government lifted a ban on G4S bidding for public sector work and suggests that Whitehall is taking a favourable view towards one of its largest contractors, despite insisting that the company remains under close scrutiny."
But hang on a minute. The bidding must have taken place during the time in which that ban was supposed to be in place. And the company was "cleared" just in time for the announcement of its success. Who is the government trying to kid?
The whole "Help to Work" story today has been utterly depressing. This morning, on Radio 4's Today programme, Evan Davies had the dubious pleasure of trying to interview the appalling Esther McVey. I bet he didn't want to. When he tried to pose questions to her boss, Iain Duncan Smith, recently he ended up being complained about by ignorant listeners. McVey did the same trick this morning - spouting utter twaddle and not answering questions. The reaction to the new scheme in the media has been predictable. The Guardian and the Independent get it right, while the Express salivates at the prospect of bludgeoning the poor even harder. The BBC interviewed Kirsty McHugh of the ERSA, who said what you would expect since she's paid by the outsourcing companies, and Richard Johnson who used to work for Serco and talked sense.
So let's spell it out. This scheme is largely about IDS's temper at the failure of the Work Programme, which he interprets as the failure of the unemployed. So they must be punished. And it will have the advantage of taking loads of people out of the unemployment figures. They will be sanctioned en masse, or driven into the black economy, or forced onto workfare and so counted as employed.
Newsnight is doing something on the scheme. I don't think I'll watch.