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Questions raised over coalition's new back to work scheme; COMMITTEE'S CONCERNS OVER PROGRAMME'S QUICK LAUNCH.


THE UK Government's flagship Work Programme has been launched at speed and with significant risk and the danger of fraud, a cross-party group of MPs will warn today.

The influential Public Accounts Committee is demanding proof that "significantly more people are in work than if the programme had not existed".

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) programme pays private companies to get the unemployed back to work but the MPs are concerned those most difficult to help may be "parked" and contractors will "cherry pick those who need little support".

Reeling off a list of risky actions taken by the Government, Labour committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: "The speed with which the Work Programme was introduced was commendable. But the quick introduction threw up risks that have to be addressed.

"In this case, the programme was not piloted, the design and development phases overlapped and the business case was devised after the decision to go ahead was taken.

"The programme was launched before the IT system designed to support it was operational.

At the time of the launch, the IT system could not carry out automated checks on whether the people the prime contractors said they had placed in employment had actually stopped claiming benefits."

Over the next five years, the department expects the programme to help up to 3.3 million people at a cost of pounds 3bn to pounds 5bn. The MPs call on the DWP to watch out for possible fraud in the wake of allegations made about private firms involved in earlier welfare to work schemes, such as the claims faced by A4E.

The report said there were risks around when people placed into work come off benefits.

It also called for companies who take all their work from the taxpayer to be subject the Freedom of Information Act.

Mrs Hodge said the scheme would transfer some of the financial risks to the private firms but warned this measure alone could not guarantee value for money.

The report states it will not possible to fully conclude whether or not the Work Programme is working properly until the autumn, 15 months after it was implemented.

Mrs Hodge said: "We need to be assured that significantly more people are in work than if the programme had not existed and that wider social benefits are being delivered in practice.

"The department must also be alive to the impact the difficult economic conditions may have on the Work Programme, and demonstrate that in the face of changes in the number of referrals it can still hold prime contractors to the delivery promises they made."

Urging the Government to address concerns about the use of taxpayers' money, she said: "Recent press reports have pointed to the possibility of fraud in welfare to work providers, especially A4e.

"The NAO is shortly going to publish the results of its investigation and we expect the Department to urgently publish the results of its own investigation."

A DWP spokesman said: "We re disappointed at some of the inaccurate comments made about the scheme.

"For the first time we require providers to set out minimum standards for participants along with a complaints system to make sure they are treated fairly, and our payment system is designed in a way that incentivises providers to help harder to reach claimants.

"Every job outcome payment through the Work Programme is fully validated."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 15, 2012
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