Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Enemas of Enterprise

An old friend used to say money talks. Since he got counselling and some medication he no longer has those hallucinations. Money is though the method by which most people deal with most people. Those who do not wish to be materialistic wish they could stop caring about money, but they can't. There are orphaned kittens and they need money. Scientific research needs money. Even the Royal Mint needs money and they're minted. If you care about anything, you are forced by the direction of history and the fate of our civilisation to care about money; what it is doing, what it is being used for and why the American dollar note seems deliberately designed to send conspiracy theorists crazy.

Money, is a political issue. Money is the reason why we are 'all in this together' whether like it or not. Channel 4 are the first mainstream media outlet to finally arrive on the scene of the out-sourcing industry and are there to repeat the same things bloggers have been trying to raise awareness of for some time now. Last night's Dispatches reported on the rise of the largest private out-sourcing companies, who take-over public services and turn them into profit-making enterprises, still funded from the public purse. They cream off much of the savings as profit and when asked to lower their prices, simply cut their costs more and pass them on to others whether they be schoolchildren, prisoners or the jobless.
I have a criticism to make though; Dispatches over-simplifies and is too nice. Human interest is fine but I feel it padded out too much of the programme which could have been more fact-dense. It didn't just have to focus on Serco and C4S either and gave barely a whole twenty seconds to where private failure has been at it's worst: Welfare to Work. Fine. Good. Because I guess that's my job.

There's a whole documented history to be found on the web by participants of Labour's New Deal, Pathways to Work, New Deal for Young People, some more New Deal and the Flexible New Deal. Don't let the name fool you: from the client's point of view everything is mandatory and by 'New' they mean it's the same thing every time and by 'Deal' they mean again that it is mandatory and you have no say in the terms of what you're agreeing to. Every meeting is like you've just lost some epic battle and are now negotiating the terms of your surrender. The Coalition is repeating Labour's gambit of pretending their plan is different this time; Chris Grayling impresses on journalists that people will have to work for their dole, that this time the Work Programme will be 'flexible' and the out-sourced providers will be paid by results.

Well, we've never heard that before.  

Case file #6 investigates the conduct, promotion and implementation of the Coalition's Work Programme and the contractors paid to get people into work. I asked the Jobcentre why Flexible New Deal was called 'Flexible' and each staff member I talked to had a different interpretation. One said it meant clients only had to go into ad hoc booked meetings rather than frequently, others that it catered better for people with special needs or children. I think it is something like that but mainly that the providers complained to the DWP about a 'lack of flexibility', like having to provide training for people which ate up the profits. When you instead only have to see a client once a week or fortnight, the staff are free to do other things like making cold calls, selling insurance and consulting services(this was all written on the wall in the back-office of my local FND provider). If you're reminded of Lionel Hutz from the Simpsons, a lawyer so poor that he moonlights as an estate agent and shoe repairman, that is how the Welfare to Work industry appears to maximise profit. 

I have few hopes for the imaginatively named Work Programme, which has so far had no selling points except those recycled again and again for Labour's work programmes. I've parsed the documentation available regarding the Work Programme and so far it appears to be not a lot different to FND, but I'll have a closer look later this week. Case file #6 in the meantime finds it to be half vanity project and half cost-cutting measure that will have a similar if not worse success rate with clients than Flexible New Deal.

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