The rose-tinted work programme

Employment Minister Mark Hoban said he was watching Work Programme firms "like a hawk" as he announced their universal failure to meet their minimum contract standards. The firms were given £433 million of government cash and 836,940 unemployed people. 

They were asked to help more of these people get into work than would have found jobs by themselves. The figure for doing nothing - the "deadweight" - was calculated at 5.5 per cent. That's how many of the unemployed people would be expected to get jobs anyway, with no assistance. 

Every single firm failed to meet it. The figures show that for all the money they received the firms did worse than nothing. So Hoban has plenty to watch. But watching should be easy. His Tory pals are always hanging out with the firms who have ripped off the public and let down the unemployed. 

Former Tory Policy Unit top chap Jonty Olliff Cooper is chief lobbyist for A4E, which took around £50m for finding jobs for just 3.5 per cent of the 100,000 or so unemployed in its charge. 

Cooper needed extra Tory help when the firm's failures began to be exposed, so A4E hired Geoff Bridges of lobbyists Quiller Consultants. Bridges was formerly Cameron's aide, while Quiller is owned by a firm run by the chairman of Cameron's constituency party, Lord Chadlington. 

Emma Harrison, who owns A4E, was Cameron's adviser on "families." So watching A4E shouldn't be hard for Hoban. The Tories have also had plenty of time to watch another useless firm. Seetec had one of the worst failure rates, getting around 2.8 per cent of the 50,000 unemployed folk they were allocated into jobs in east London and East Anglia. 

Seetec has grown fat letting people down. Thanks to government contracts the firm has grown 50-fold and profits have increased 70 times over in just five years. Its current turnover is £53m. Profits stand at £14.6m. Founder and owner Peter Cooper took a £1.7m dividend last year. All the time it was welcoming a steady stream of coalition MPs and ministers. 

In March Tory MP Priti Patel posed with Seetec staff and praised "support given by Seetec to my constituents and its involvement in the government's Work Programme." In January Nick Clegg and Chris Grayling visited Seetec offices to praise the firm. 

Last December then Tory chair Sayeeda Warsi called on the firm and said she "really enjoyed visiting Seetec. "We're using the very best providers that are out there, such as Seetec in Norwich, to deliver our new Work Programme," she said. 

All the information about Seetec's failures was available - I wrote about its history of poor Ofsted reports and profiteering earlier this year. But instead of probing Seetec further, the Tories banned Ofsted from inspecting Work Programme firms. 

If state schools came up with results as dismal as A4E's, they would be vilified and replaced. But the Tories' intimate connections with the "benefit-busting" firms helps explain why they ignore their failure. Tories worried about "government overspending" have been silent on a £3 billion programme going nowhere. 

The Taxpayers Alliance has also kept quiet about this waste of taxpayers' cash. But there are deeper reasons the Tories indulge these millionaires cheating the benefit system. First, they believe that the unemployed are responsible for unemployment, not a lack of jobs. 

Second, they believe the private sector must have the answer. This has opened the door for snake-oil salesmen and con-merchants to set up multimillion-pound firms selling ineffective "job-club" style schemes to the government. 

During the boom years, these firms' failure to help the unemployed with their pointless, badly delivered classes on self improvement was barely noticed. Now the recession exposes the failure, Hoban says things will get better. 

The sun always shines on incompetent privatisers in Tory eyes. Labour's turnaround on this is very welcome. Margaret Hodge has changed the weather by picking at Work Programme faults. Now it looks like the front bench has caught up. 

Even Labour's top Blairite David Miliband tweeted: "We always knew Tories were worse than useless on welfare, now flagship Work Programme has underperformed doing nothing." Ed Miliband attacked Cameron in the Commons for his "historic first ... a welfare-to-work programme where you're more likely to get a job if you're not on the programme." 

Yvette Cooper talked about "shocking proof the work programme isn't working." But it remains unclear what Labour proposes in its place. A4E, Working Links, Seetec, Prospects and the other firms profiting from failing the unemployed all rose under the last Labour government. 

Seetec's list of celebrity visitors included a stopover by Ed Miliband and Stephen Twigg in April. Even as recently as February 2011 the Employment Related Services Association, lobbyists for A4E, G4s and the like, claimed: "Liam Byrne made clear the Labour Party's support for universal credit and the Work Programme in principle." 

Labour had two main programmes for the unemployed - the Flexible New Deal and the Future Jobs Fund. The former was the model for the Work Programme. It featured the same contractors, the same approach of nagging the unemployed in job clubs. 

But Labour's £1bn Future Jobs Fund took a quite different approach. It wasn't perfect, but instead of being based on "fairy jobmothers" bothering the jobless the fund subsidised actual jobs for unemployed young people. 

I'd rather Labour simply invested in housebuilding - which would create jobs and houses - but the Future Jobs Fund was something. Inevitably, the Tories cancelled the half-decent scheme and ramped up Labour's rubbish privatisation instead. 

At the moment Labour refers more to the Future Jobs Fund than the Flexible New Deal, but we need something much stronger to show it's distancing itself from the Work Programme crap. The fact that Byrne, Cooper and both Milibands refuse to say they will scrap the programme is very worrying. 

With the Tories facing a major failure, we need to be able to say more than "I told you so." The way to win through the Tories' weakness is make a real promise of something better. 

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