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MPs warn of the risks of the £5bn Work Programme

The public accounts committee says that contractors may "cherry-pick" individuals who need little su

The Work Programme is at risk of being fraudulently exploited, the public accounts committee (PAC) has warned.

The programme, designed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to pay private companies to help get the long-term unemployed into sustainable jobs, launched in June 2011 and replaced virtually all welfare-to-work programmes run by the DWP. Over the next five years, the department expects it to help as many as 3.3 million people into work, at a cost of up to £5bn.

Contractors receive the majority of their pay once a participant has stayed in a job for a set period of time. This length of time varies according to the claimant group.

The DWP argues that payment-by-results contracts have transferred the financial risk to providers. However, the PAC says that although some risk has been transferred, the test of whether the programme is achieving value for money will be broader and there are new risks associated with the changes.

The DWP and prime contractors must show that more people are in work as a result of the programme than would have been if it had not existed and that the wider social benefits that underpin the cost-benefit analysis are delivered in practice. The department must also be alert to the impact the difficult economic environment may have on the Work Programme, the PAC argues.

The commitee warns that the DWP is less concerned with defining how clients should be treated and the services they should receive and is measuring success on sustained job outcomes; it must seek assurances on a range of issues, and also needs assurances that harder-to-help claimants are not parked and ignored.

The DWP, which currently relies on contractors to set minimum standards of service, must assure the public that no improper payment is made to contractors before the effective monitoring systems are in place, the commitee says.

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No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.