I’ve done a couple of turns this week for the BBC. The first, on Tuesday, was for Radio Scotland’s Call Kaye, on universal benefits for pensioners. The second, late last night, was on Newsnight Scotland, covering JSA sanctions. Gordon Brewer, the presenter was apologetic to the viewers: they couldn’t get the DWP, Conservatives or Liberal Democrats to put anybody up, and all they could offer instead was me.
I was asked specifically to say whether or not Jobcentre Plus was working to targets. This isn’t a subject I’ve covered before in the blog, and I thought I ought to explain the answer I gave. Following accusations about targets in the Guardian, the DWP, which denies that it has such targets, held an internal inquiry. The report by Neil Couling, published last May, is here. It claims repeatedly that there is ‘no evidence’ that there are such targets. But it also goes through a dossier of thirteen papers which seem to show the opposite. In each case, the argument runs, people who had written about targets were doing something that was inconsistent with current policy.
Example three is a photograph taken of a poster in a Derbyshire site which states numerically a minimum level of referrals which the office should be looking to make. This was also detailed by the Guardian. Upon investigation, this chart was intended by local management to ensure consistency both across their Adviser teams and with other sites with similar labour markets. The poster was removed in January 2013. There is no evidence of any formal target setting here but there was clearly an expectation set based on numerical averages which is against policy.
Example seven consists of excerpts from three e-mails … These e-mails do refer to benchmarks being applied but are also specific in that referrals should only be made where appropriate. … The content of the e-mails, in part, does not reflect the current policy and is therefore unacceptable …
Example 10 is an excerpt from an e-mail sent by a cluster manager in which flight-paths and targets are mentioned. This was also detailed by the Guardian. The detail and tone of the e-mail clearly contravenes our policy. This has been raised with the District Manager who agrees that the wording of the e-mail was inappropriate and has taken action with the individual to remedy this.
Couling suggests that where an agency has been conditioned over several years into thinking of guidance as a target, it can be difficult to stop. It might equally be argued, of course, that this particular vice is liable to encouraged if central agencies present their guidance to administrators in terms of numbers and league tables.