Watching "Live Questions to The Work and Pensions Secretary and his Ministers" on BBC Parliament this afternoon I thought I heard Iain Duncan Smith say, in answer to a question from Dame Anne Begg MP, that the bidders for the new (future) Work Programme had been decided. In this I was mistaken as, according to Hansard, it was Chris Grayling speaking and he actually said that:
"...the Work programme bidding process closed this morning, and we have had a substantial number of bids, which is very encouraging. It looks as if the Work programme is going to go ahead according to plan, which is good news." (Question 18, Hansard: HoC 2.30pm 14.11.2011 )
Reading this relieved me of my belief that a decision had been made within hours of the bidding period closing; so, Good Times. Sort of. Since the new contracts for the new Work Programme were, I understood, due to start in April.
What shocked me was what he said next.
"I would also say to the hon. Lady that, shortly before the start of these parliamentary questions, I placed a written statement before the House, giving details of an extension to the welfare-to-work contracts under existing programmes through to next June."
Shock and horror. That might sound dramatic (and might be so) but I know a few people who are currently making weekly or twice-weekly visits to the offices of at least two of the existing contractors. Those people are actually quite looking forward to the end of March, as the replacement contractors might actually have some idea how to help them find decent training or jobs. Or, indeed, any training or jobs...
And then there is the question of when, exactly, is 'next June'? I've tried but failed to find an online copy of the written statement so no help there. Is it 'the next June due' which would be this June, 2011. Or is it June 2012? I know not. But perhaps the existing staff will no longer be overheard on the telephone to employment agencies seeking new jobs for themselves. Or they'll go and be replaced by people who'll try harder to help those they are meant to be helping. It'd give me a break from a fair amount of the tear-drying, calming-down, making properly constructive suggestions and even setting up of interviews for training or work which I do for my friends and acquaintances. I don't mind doing it, when I have the spoons, but people and organizations are being paid vast sums of money for a "service" they appear incapable of providing. And they get their contracts extended...
In Other News
A great array of questions were asked of the Secretary and his Ministers regarding Work Capability Assessments, DLA, ESA, Universal Credit, the Mobility Component for people living in Residential Care Homes and Special Boarding Schools; all of which makes a full reading of today's report instructive and often jaw-dropping.
In particular: during Topical Questions (at the end of the session's report) at "T:9" Atos rears its head:
(Makerfield) (Lab): Recently, a constituent contacted me regarding his Atos Healthcare assessment. Three specialists had considered him to be unfit for work, yet it was suggested that he could be a bingo caller or a car park attendant. My local citizens advice bureau has identified many such cases which are resolved in favour of the claimant after an expensive review or appeal. Are there any plans to review Atos Healthcare’s delivery of medical assessments?"
Mr Grayling gave an answer but did not answer the question.
This did not surprise me.
Quotations are taken from the Hansard report on the proceedings in the House of Commons, Oral Questions, Work and Pensions at 2.30pm on Monday 14th February 2011 which can be read in full here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtoday/cmdebate/01.htm
There are two pages and some of the questions do not relate to disability or sickness but all make interesting reading and there are some gems in there...