It must be congratulations all round at the DWP. The Work Programme results are terrible but hardly anyone has noticed, because the raw numbers are impressively big, and a week of spinning has convinced the largely gullible media that failure is actually success. Well done, chaps.
But these are the figures (in percentages):
Why are there no headlines this time around about "its worse than doing nothing", as indeed it is for more than half the providers? Leaving ESA aside for the moment, the minimum contracted figures - what the providers contracted to deliver - were only a tiny amount above the dead weight figure - what the DWP assumed would happen with no intervention at all, which means no money spent. But half the companies couldn't even deliver that. For JSA 18-24 the wooden spoon goes to A4e in South Yorkshire, which managed just 15.5%. Yet Mark Hoban says, "The improvement in performance over the past year has been profound and the scheme is getting better and better."
The failure with ESA is inescapable, and some publications, like the Independent, choose to headline that. But it's been spun for a week that this is down to lack of "resources", i.e. those on ESA need more money spent on them than the programme provides. The excuses are somewhat tortured. An outfit calling itself Inclusion (it describes itself as a "cutting-edge thought leader" but doesn't say where its funding comes from) wants to move the goalposts and take the economy into account. It recognises that poor performance means less income so even poorer performance. Another think-tank, the Social Market Foundation (equally cagey about where its funding comes from) says, confusingly, "Poor performance against the DWP's minimum levels cannot be taken as evidence that providers are doing a bad job or that the scheme offers poor value for money," because we don't know how a different approach would have fared. The ERSA, the mouthpiece for the providers, declares that the government's way of measuring performance is wrong and that the targets should take the state of the economy into account.
The Financial Times tells us that "several providers have been put on watch for having their contract terminated." 12 contracts, they say, have been put under a "performance improvement notice". But I would be very surprised if any providers do actually lose contracts. In another piece the FT points out that the WP is "cheap and it isn't working". The bidding process meant that companies said they could do it "at a lower cost than was probably wise", and so the profits aren't coming in which would enable them to spend enough to be successful. It's that negative spiral which those actually experiencing the WP know only too well. The article concludes with the opinion that Osborne is shifting money from the WP to the jobcentres. Yet JCP has suffered big staff cuts recently.
In real business, as opposed to outsourcing, contracts have a legal reality. They come with penalty clauses, punishing the contractor for failure to deliver. In this business, the companies know that the minimum contractual requirements mean little or nothing. The likes of A4e are used to missing their targets and still making loads of money. The government has an interest in pretending that failure is, in fact, success. When the model is payment by results (but not really) the contractors make less money; but the casualties are not the businesses but the people who have not received the service.
It is nonsense to blame the economic situation. If the number of unemployed people who can get back into work depends on the state of the economy (and it probably does) then what is the point of a scheme like the Work Programme? The companies are adding little or nothing to what would be happening anyway.
However, it appears that Iain Duncan Smith has got away with it.