A curious story popped up in my Google alerts the other day, from the Rotherham Business News website. It reported on the new "Help to Work" programme, then went on to the fact that Rotherham Council had discussed a review into the Work Programme as it operated locally, with Serco and A4e. The report was particularly concerned about sanctions. Both companies were invited to take part in the review, in person or in writing, but declined, "with A4e taking the view – based on advice from their Department for Work and Pensions account manager - that it would be inappropriate to respond to the panel's questions." I'm not entirely sure what a DWP account manager is. But clearly A4e don't see themselves as accountable to anyone.
The DWP has shied away from investigating another provider, Seetec. Private Eye broke the story some time ago. Two whistle-blowers had reported fraud around Seetec's Work Choice contract. The DWP has now "investigated" and exonerated the company. But it didn't interview the whistle-blowers, and claimed that it had all the evidence needed in their emails - which contained no detail, just a short summary. The Eye says that Margaret Hodge is on the case.
It's staggering that the value of outsourcing contracts has risen by 168% in the first quarter of 2014. It's gone to £2.1bn. In local government it's up by 60%. And more than half the contracts are first-time outsourcing deals. The government wants more. Private Eye also reported in the latest issue on a meeting held by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, with bosses from G4S, Serco, Capita and Atos, to discuss "how to develop the government's commercial reforms". Apparently they discussed "greater openness and trust between government and its suppliers". But of course, you can't have openness when commercial firms are involved, unless you change the law. And businesses are lobbying hard to avoid that.
There was an excellent, if chilling, article by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian last week. Read it and weep. Even if the Tories are rejected at the next election it will be too late to undo their sell-off of our public services.