The government's work programme doesn't look well administered

An underspend isn't always good news.

Tony Wilson, policy director at the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, reports that the Work Programme, the controversial government scheme which pays outsourcing firms to get long-term unemployed people back in work, has come in £225m under budget. The Youth Contract, a related programme which focuses on young unemployed people, came in £300m under budget.

 

 

 

 

That sounds good – and likely will be spun as good by the government, when the time comes to release the figures – but it's actually yet more evidence of the mismanagement of the entire scheme. The Guardian reports on the public accounts committee's analysis of the programmes:

The report said that providers complained they "did not have the funding to provide the level of support they wanted". It added: "Particular issues reported as resulting from a lack of funding included an inability to pay for interpreters and for participant transport in rural areas. Some subcontractors felt this also had an impact on their ability to meet the needs of particular groups of participants."

Another provider said that due to the high numbers of unemployed people needing help too often "support was provided online or in group sessions, with one-to-one support used only where necessary".

When a programme is being condemned for a lack of funding at the same time as not even spending the budget it's been given, it's hard to imagine it's being particularly well administered. Of course, given that against the best counterfactuals, it looks like the work programme is less effective than doing nothing at all, that shouldn't be a huge surprise.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Photograph: Getty Images.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.