Concrete standards needed to prevent training provider fraud
Last month saw the publication of the Public Accounts Commitee report on fraud in Welfare to Work programmes. This report looks at ways to prevent and identify issues of fraud within the sector and how to define a standard for a 'fit and proper' organisation.
The employability sector has been under public scrutiny recently with criticism and whistle-blowing over fraudulent activity within providers. In response to this, the new report highlights concerns over processes and standards for claiming on outcome related funding contracts.
The Government spends around £900m a year on programmes designed to help the unemployed find and sustain work. Despite the focus on outcome focussed delivery, they have not set concrete standards as to how this would be evidenced and what exactly counts as a successful 'outcome'.
The current 'black box' approach to contracting the Work Programme does not ensure that providers sufficiently demonstrate value for money. Without fully defined standards and transparency within the programme how can you assure that providers claim employment outcomes based on their training and advice and not for employment secured by learners without help from the provider? Without clarity, we will only see more public investigations into fraudulent activities, which reflect badly on the rest of the sector. Without proper standards how do providers assure that they are doing enough to comply and are not unintentionally breaking the rules?
"Higher levels of operational and financial risk" have been identified due to the increase of subcontracting though colleges.
To tackle these issues the report suggests increased transparency within the sector and more unscheduled inspections by the departments provider assurance team- this will mean that providers and colleges will need to to be able to evidence their delivery and outcomes at short notice.
The Government has also refined the definitions of checks which trigger payments, thus reducing the scope for abuse of the rules. It was a also suggested that the department should review and improve controls to ensure that contractors are only paid for results that they have achieved.
'The department must publish validated data on the outcomes achieved by the Work Programme'.
The ERSA (the Employment Providers' Trade Association) as well as the press and Government are said to have quoted "outcome data on the Work Programme without it being complete or comparable with any targets which would enable any assessment of whether the Programme was delivering as expected…The Department maintains that reliable data on job outcomes is not yet available as most claimants have to be in a job for six months before providers receive an outcome payment." Steps should be taken to ensure that this data is readily available from providers and that standards for this information are set; ensuring consistency of data for a complete and accurate picture of the state and success of work programme.
Read the full report here