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.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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