Council loses major contract

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WIGAN Council has lost the contract to deliver the Government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme.

The work programme, which has faced fierce criticism in recent weeks due to its poor performance, is due to be taken over by charity Wise Ability when the authority’s tenure expires next month.

Wigan’s jobseekers, who currently attend the programme at the Life Centre, will still be able to attend their employment courses elsewhere in the borough, the Evening Post understands.

Head of learning and skills, Carol Halford, explained that the contract termination would not result in any job losses for council staff.

She said: “This decision means Wigan Council is no longer directly providing services as part of the Work Programme. We will, however, work closely with Wise Ability and other providers to ensure there is adequate support for the long-term unemployed.

“Staff who delivered the programme will be transferred to the new provider although most have already found new jobs within the council.

“We remain committed to helping the unemployed, our adult learning team provides a series of training programmes tailored to help people into work.”

The programme, introduced as a back to work scheme by the coalition government, was slated last week in a report by the Public Accounts Committee.

It claimed that all 18 of the private firms hired to initiate the scheme were missing basic targets, including G4S, the company responsible at present for providing the scheme in Wigan.

A G4S spokesman said: “Both parties have recognised that Wigan Council is better placed to help jobseekers in other ways, rather than as part of the work programme.

“We will continue working hard in Wigan to help the most disadvantaged people in our community back into work.”

Labour chair of the PA committee, Margaret Hodge, said: “It is shocking that, of the 9,500 former incapacity benefit claimants referred to providers, only 20 people have been placed in a job that has lasted three months, while the poorest-performing provider did not manage to place a single person in the under-25 category into a job lasting six months.

“The government is showing a bit of stubbornness and complacency about what these figures tell us.”

The Department for Work and Pensions responded that the figures in the report were skewed and that new figures due later in the year would give a fairer reflection of the programme’s success.

Council bosses will be meeting representatives from the Wise Ability charity this week to discuss the handover.