There's been a great deal written about the case of the "work experience" jubilee stewards, but I haven't weighed in because it was nothing to do with A4e. Well, not directly, anyway.
Among all the articles about the controversy I recommend two. The first is a New Statesman blog piece, written by Kerry McCarthy. The second is by John Harris in the Guardian, and is emotively titled "Back to the Workhouse".
One thing struck me about the incident, which hasn't been raised in the media; the relationship of Work Programme providers with large companies. In this case the provider was a subcontractor, a charity called Tomorrow's People, and the employer was Close Protection UK. Now, in the past security work was an area for which some providers were willing to pay for training. The SIA (the necessary qualification for the job) could be delivered in a week. The provider might well have an arrangement with one or two local security firms for their clients to have interviews for any vacancies. But now, it seems, the qualification involves unpaid "work experience" and an NVQ2 in something called spectator safety. And the employer is a national company.
This is far from unique. A4e has a relationship with another huge security firm, Securitas, which boasts of employing 300,000 people in 51 countries. Such arrangements are not widely publicised, but probably involve employers in areas like care work and retail, as well as security; jobs which need minimal training and pay minimum wage. The WP provider pays for the training and the employer agrees to offer some jobs to the WP clients. What's wrong with that? Most people would say that anything which helps get people into work must be a good thing. But there are some drawbacks.
For the employers it means a big taxpayer subsidy, because ultimately it's the taxpayer who is paying for the training. Yet it's a private arrangement between two private companies. It leaves smaller companies out of the loop. True, the clients who get work are not bound to the first employer. But they don't know, when put onto the programme, which companies have these arrangements with their provider, and so which areas of work they are going to be steered into. No one is monitoring these relationships - that "black box" again. They only get scrutinised when it goes wrong, as with CPUK. There, it was apparent that the employer was benefiting from free labour called "work experience". How many other employers are getting a similar benefit?
The government is determined to increase dramatically the number of people who are made to do unpaid "work experience". We must demand full disclosure of which employers benefit from this. How many people are they taking onto work experience and how many are they subsequently employing?