THE government’s claim that G4S was barred from negotiating for new contracts pending an “independent review” of its overcharging for prisoner tagging would appear to be complete bunkum – at least as far as work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith was concerned.
Less than three weeks after the Cabinet Office declared the security giant rehabilitated (even though it is still under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office), it was announced that G4S had landed the lion’s share of the controversial £300m community work placement (CWP) schemes – where, under threat of losing benefits, people will be forced to carry out six months’ workfare for community organisations.
However, the 18 nationwide contracts under the Help to Work programme were actually awarded on 10 April – by spooky coincidence, the day after G4S got the Cabinet all-clear after it had paid back £109m for the tagging fiasco.
Furthermore, the deadline for sealing the deals was originally mid-March when G4S – also infamous for its self-proclaimed “humiliating shambles” that was the security for the 2012 Olympics – was still officially out in the cold. Moreover, in February the firm was even advertising job vacancies for contract directors, coordinators, monitoring officers and validators “in preparation for the launch of community work placements”. Its website said: “G4S is looking to recruit key members of staff to join our team for the mobilisation and delivery of this programme.”
Even though the company was advertising in 11 contract areas and ended up with a mere six, it all suggests that not only was G4S deeply involved in negotiations with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) when it should not have been, but that dates were being manipulated to accommodate the company.
The DWP told the Eye: “It’s not uncommon for bidders to advertise vacancies ahead of the competition results, as it can speed up their implementation should they be successful,” and no bidders were given “advanced indications of the outcome of the competition.” It also said the original contract deadlines were moved back to April because “the necessary due diligence took slightly longer than originally anticipated.” But surely due diligence should have flagged up that G4S was under investigation for fraud and was, at that stage, also barred from bidding?
PS: And which charities and community groups are actually going to take these “forced volunteers”? Almost 200, including household names such as Oxfam and the MS Society, have signed an agreement to “keep volunteering voluntary”, saying they will not take part in workfare. Many more charities such as Scope, Action Aid, British Red Cross and Friends of the Earth have confirmed they will not participate either.
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Yelp to work
G4S isn’t the only successful Help to Work contractor with a dodgy record.
Seetec, with almost all its £54m turnover already coming from the Department for Work and Pensions, has picked up five of the new contracts, even though its previous performance on the Work Programme has been pisspoor in places. Last September, for example, the DWP even took away the firm’s Work Programme contract in the East of England. Nevertheless, that region is now one of the five it has been given on the new scheme.
As Help to Work is aimed at those who have not found jobs under the Work Programme, it means people Seetec had previously failed to help will now be passed back to it – a cause of delight, no doubt, for Seetec’s multi-millionaire owner, Peter Cooper.
Client in a coma
Figures published in February show Seetec was also the worst performer among eight contractors running another scheme, Work Choice, which is meant to help disabled people to find jobs. Seetec caused outrage that month when it wrote to a “client” in Rochdale who had been in a coma since December, urging her to become involved in “intensive job-focused activity”.
Interserve, which the DWP punished last year for poor Work Programme performance in West Yorkshire, has also picked up Help to Work contracts, one of which – you guessed it – is in West Yorkshire. Tory peer Lord Blackwell, who sits on Interserve’s board, must be delighted too.