Statement from the PAC Chair on The Work Programme: published performance statistics

27 November 2012

A statement from The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts:

Today’s Work Programme performance figures clearly demonstrate that the government’s flagship scheme for getting people back into work is falling woefully short of expectations. These shocking figures reveal for the first time that all Work Programme contractors have failed to meet contractual minimum performance standards. My committee raised the alarm in February this year that the department’s targets looked overly optimistic given the economic backdrop. Despite this, the department told us they were completely confident targets would be met. My concern is that poor performance will drive contractors simply to ‘park’ the hardest-to-help participants in order to cut their costs.

I am angered that it has taken more than a year for the department to tell us the extent to which this £3 billion to 5 billion programme is in trouble. The complete absence of transparency over Work Programme performance makes a mockery of the government’s agenda to have more open and accountable public services. Given the scale and importance of this programme to the lives of more than 800,000 people, it is entirely unacceptable for participants, public and parliament to be left in the dark. This is especially frustrating when snippets of data have leaked out from contactors and third parties to provide an incomplete and potentially misleading picture of performance.

The success of this programme will be measured on getting people off unemployment benefit and into sustainable jobs who without the programme would not have found work. There is little value to the taxpayer or society in having people sitting on a scheme for over two years. With such a gaping chasm between the department’s expectations and the number of Work Programme participants who have actually found work, my committee will be demanding that the department explains to us what has gone wrong. We will also want to know what immediate action they are going to take to get back on track. The department has now decided to break its promise to report performance data quarterly and plans to provide only half yearly updates. This is not acceptable. We will expect the department to restore its commitment to publish performance statistics every three months.

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