bigcheatsIn the December 17th 2012 edition of Smoke Signals, The Slog predicted that JobCentre privatisation ‘may yet turn into one of the major scandals of Camerlot government’. It looks like this might have been one of my more prescient forecasts.

Nothing like adding a flash new brand suffix to a rickety service to sprinkle a little pa-zazz onto it. Thus these days at Gov.UK, help with finding a job (or employees to do one) is now provided by JobCentre Plus.

You are about to learn what the plus stands for. But in the meantime, go to the site and you’ll see other signs of the growing drivel-level there: Universal Jobmatch, work choice, work trials, time-flexing and so forth – the usual syntax of the three-card trick artist….who is actually talking in those cases about lower hourly rates, poorer quality jobs, working for nothing, working shorter hours, and zero-hours contracts respectively. Mr Orwell’s Winston Smith would’ve been the only man in Britain working 24/7 to make up new and more diametrically misleading euphemisms.

One reason for the growing tidal wave of hogwash, however, is this newish element in the mix: private organisations are now under contract with the government to provide services  such as ‘Employment Zones’ and ‘Pathways to Work’, with ‘touchscreen interactive jobpoints’ inside Jobcentres.

Those who don’t drown in the hogwash along the way are redirected from the physical to the virtual – that is, all jobseeker enquiries garnered via JobCentresPlus (JCP) go through the Directgov jobs portal, which lists job posts sourced from the JCP network.

The key phrase in all that guff is ‘private organisations are now under contract with the government’. With all such neoliberal bollocks comes the hogwash-surfing spin…..and, more often than not, private agencies cheating we the taxpayers (aka dumb Sir Humphreys) in various ways. In other DWP areas we have seen all sorts of naughty maths and phantom jobseekers being used to screw UKplc.

Over the last week, thanks to the sharp eyes of regular slogger Mark D, I have been looking at some of what goes on at Directgov. And I’m afraid it’s depressingly predictable.

Two simple stunts are being pulled. First, some vacancies are being double and even triple-counted. And second, vacancies that have been filled are left up at the site. The result is that the Government is able to claim rises in (and more) job vacancies than actually exist; while the private agencies are able to suggest more jobs have been brought into the system by their efforts – and thus greater synergy with employers has been achieved by privatisation – and the size of their job-filling task justifies the larger fee. (As scams go, justifying an overall fee is a more cost-effective way of cheating the taxpayer than ‘filling’ jobs that don’t exist or claiming to have filled jobs they haven’t…both of which have been revealed before now).

Both Mark D and myself have used our own ‘job requirements’ and a scan of job-vacancy ID numerals on a random selection of the openings listed at DirectGov. A couple of examples will suffice: on 7th December (five days ago) Mark followed up Job ID 5032963, and then compared it to a ‘second’ vacancy, 4787934. Comparing the location and details of these ‘separate’ opportunities, it was quickly obvious they were the same one.

Since then, Mark claims to have unearthed “the duplication of an ever-increasing number” of vacancies at the site.Yesterday, he began finding triple listings, like this one: 4888866 Job reference code 11620 RA_1385661388 + Job ID4888872Job reference code11620 RA_1385661477 + Job ID 4888859 Job reference code 11620 RA_1385661371  =  er, one job, but posted three times.

I too have had no difficulty finding vacancies listed as ‘live’ yet well past the closing date given in the details…and Mark has uncovered the same thing. He tells me, “If the politicians are using these numbers as ‘jobs out there’ then [based on research so far] you could discount anything from 20% to two-thirds of them”.

That our Ministers very clearly are using them is not hard to illustrate. Over and over again, this Government has used vacancy statistics as a sign of the economy turning round. This example from January 2012 is typical:

jobtotalfinalEven on this occasion, the website Factcheck concluded, ‘Taking data from the last two years, the number of job vacancies in the economy is actually at one of its lowest levels since November 2009, considerably lower than the peak of approximately 498,000 from November 2010 to January 2011.’ As usual, the newspaper reporting this joy-inducing information lied. And guess what, it was The Sun wot dunnit.

But it was also the JobCentre Plus site wot dunnit. We simply cannot trust anything these mendacious suppliers and their political mates tell us, and this in turn raises another highly relevant issue. This week (Friday 13th December) the Office for National Statistics (ONS) issues its job stats report. The figures quoted there will no doubt be the subject of debate. Is the ONS relying at least partly on JobCentre Plus data?

And equally important, will Cameron and Osborne use JCP data – data that are clearly compromised – to reiterate their lies about new jobs being created by the “growing” economy?

On the whole, it has always been the SME sector that most needs the Jobcentres system, but has been the least engaged with it. Five years ago, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) argued that the key thing for any organisation involved in this kind of work was not to become ‘a targets-driven organisation that is perceived to be more about processing….Two thirds of people on job seekers allowance are repeat claimants, which suggests not enough is being done to help keep people in work once they have got there….’

In other words, helping people get jobs that suit them – by using HR skills and some sense of ‘a calling’ – will benefit both the SME employers who don’t have to keep replacing them, and the workers who get more job satisfaction, thus losing their sense of workforce alienation.

What this investigation shows is that, as usual, the real needs of the citizen are being subordinated to those of private suppliers charging ripoff fees….and those of lying Chancellors who need bent data to make a failure seem like a success.

Watch closely now as some hasty de-duping takes place at the site.

Directly related to this piece: How Osborne’s Autumn statement was directly contradicted by the OBR

How Osborne’s Autumn Statement was directly contradicted by the ONS