Private companies to be rewarded for welfare failure

Ah, those welfare “reforms” that neoliberal Mr Purnell is pushing – you know, the plans to cut benefits and provide cheap labour for big business get the long term sick and unemployed back into work?

As my comrade Robert will attest, it’s not easy for people with disabilities to get back into work even when the economic climate is supposed to be good – never mind in a full-blown recession.

Will workfare make things better?

The FT reports on the preliminary results:

A flagship £1bn government programme to find jobs for people on sickness benefit is running 73 per cent short of its target, an unexpectedly bad outcome that will test political consensus about expanding private welfare provision.

The poor performance data, measured before the big increase in unemployment caused by the recession, has wide implications for direction of welfare reform, the price of existing contracts and the terms of future negotiations with private providers.

Ministers in recent years have been fighting to outdo the Conservatives in their support for welfare-to-work schemes, advocating the reforms as a relatively cost-free way to slash welfare rolls and to save the exchequer billions.

The disappointing early results from the Pathways to Work scheme provide a reality check, suggesting to cut the 2.6m incapacity benefit roll is harder and more expensive than expected.

James Purnell, welfare secretary, has proposed extending similar “payment by results” schemes to all those on sickness benefit deemed fit for work. Pathways’ performance record will make it harder for providers to raise private finance to invest in advance, especially in recession.

Almost all companies are losing money on Pathways contracts. One executive described it as “cash crunch” that could push some groups over the edge. “It is getting to the stage where they’ll be handing back the contracts,” said another industry insider.
Pathways was rolled out nationwide last year, the government’s first concerted attempt to tackle stubbornly high incapacity benefit rolls. But between April and September providers achieved only 27 per cent of the target to place people in “sustained jobs” for 13 weeks, according to figures published by website Indus Delta.

So, what’s the deal then? What now?

Why, bail-out the private companies, of course!

Give them the cash up front! Payment before results!

From Tribune:

As the Government’s welfare reform bill was debated by MPs for the first time, Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb asked him if he intended to change the contracts “so that more of what the providers get is a lump sum and less is related to performance?”

Mr Purnell replied: “We are happy to consider whether we can ‘front-load’ the payments for taking people on,” and added that there had been “very good interest” among companies for him to do just that.

The Department for Work and Pensions has already received bids from companies seeking the contracts, and is preparing to choose the successful bidders.

Now, I know what you are thinking. The government already has job centres and employs many professional and hard-working people to assist the unemployed in finding employment.

But that’s no good for the super-rich, is it? Where’s the profit in that?

Wildcat strikes at oil refineries

Let’s be clear, this is not a racist or xenophobic protest – though, no doubt the fascists will try and jump on the bandwagon. The strikers are not motivated by hatred, but by a fear that they might be lose their jobs in the future.

The contention is not that Italian or Portugese nationals living locally should be barred from employment, but that it is crazy that bosses would bring in workers from overseas before first seeking to take on unemployed people who live near the refinery.

These workers should be praised for defying the anti-union laws which criminalise wildcat action, for breaking the law to defend their living standards.

The BBC reports on the growing protests:

Hundreds of energy industry contractors have walked out at sites in northern England and Scotland in an escalating protest over the use of foreign labour.

The dispute began at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, North Lincolnshire, on Wednesday after a construction contract was awarded to an Italian firm.

Unions said the contract should have been given to British workers.

In a second day of action, 800 people protested outside the refinery as workers from other sites joined them.

Hundreds of contract workers at the neighbouring Conoco Phillips oil refinery took part in Thursday’s action.

Employees at BP’s Dimlington gas terminal in East Yorkshire and its chemical manufacturing plant in Saltend, Hull, also walked out in support of the Lindsey refinery workers.

Unofficial strike action was also taken by workers at Scottish Power’s Longannet power station in Fife.

Total, which owns the Lindsey refinery, said its main refining operations on the 500-acre site remained unaffected by the action.

It also stressed that there would be no direct redundancies as a result of the construction contract being awarded to Italian-based contractor IREM.

Unite union regional officer Bernard McAuley said workers at the refinery had been joined by hundreds of trade unionists and other supporters from around the UK.

He said: “They’ve come from all over the country. We reckon there were almost 1,000 people here today.

“We’ve also had huge numbers of messages of support from people who are incensed by this decision. It’s a total mockery.

“There are men here whose fathers and uncles have worked at this refinery, built this refinery from scratch. It’s outrageous.”

Lame Academy

The title being a pun on the erstwhile BBC talent show… (Yes, I miss it too.)

The News Line editorial today is on the calamities facing recently-privatised schools:

THE Academy school project – to replace state owned schools, with ‘independent’, millionaire sponsored, and privately run schools, who hire the staff that they want, decide on the syllabus, and decide on rates of pay – is crashing down around the Labour government which created it.

The millionaire sponsors, now hard hit by the capitalist crisis, are no longer keen to splash their cash, and the system is proving to be grossly inferior to the local authority run state schools that they are meant to supplant.

Just where the Academy system is right now, can be seen by the crisis being undergone by the Richard Rose Academy, in Carlisle.

It was formed from a school and a college and opened just five months ago, at the gallop so to speak, with its ‘trademark’ modern buildings not even having planning permission.

It has just been put under a ‘special measures’ regime after parents complained to the schools inspectors, Ofsted.

Last Friday the academy was closed for a day as pupils staged a protest, which was supported by their parents, on the grounds that the gross understaffing of the Academy made it an unsafe place for children. Well, necessary staffing levels cost money!

Ofsted’s report, released on Wednesday evening, says that 90 per cent of parents had ‘serious concerns’ about their child’s welfare, safety and education.

The report found that the school failed to give pupils ‘an acceptable standard of education’ and that those leading it were not ‘demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement’.

It added that ‘The academy’s senior leaders’ hired by employees of the sponsor, ‘underestimated the levels of challenge presented by the amalgamation of the two schools serving different communities’.

Parents said the main problem was an acute shortage of teaching staff which completely undermined what education programme there was.

It turns out that the children were being taught in temporary classrooms with no heating and no toilets, and that the most proficient teachers had left, leaving the teaching to relatively inexperienced supply teachers.

Such a situation would never be tolerated at a state run school.

Schools Minister Jim Knight, whose department had allowed this anarchic situation to develop, said last week that he would do all he could to turn the school around.

This statement has been greeted by parents with understandable scepticism since it is Knight’s Ministry that allowed the ‘academy’ to start without the necessary permanent buildings in the first place.

The Academy was ‘fast tracked’ by the government in its stampede to eradicate the state education system.

It did not seem to matter to the Ministry that pupils were being taught in temporary accommodation, and that this would continue to be so for a considerable period ahead. Even if the permanent buildings got planning permission, they would take some time to be built – that is if they were going to be built at all.

Christine Blower, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The Richard Rose Academy is a victim of the government’s fixation with private providers for education. The fast track to opening this Academy has left pupils, parents and the local community without a well functioning school.

‘Richard Rose Academy should return to the local authority which can provide support and back-up.’
Academies must be scrapped, and free state education restored with proper funding.

This means that all students’ fees must be scrapped and full living grants restored to every student to restore the right of free state education to every young person.