When I asked the DWP how much they paid Work Programme companies, they rejected my request 4 times. The last time was on the grounds that this information could not be released because it was “commercially sensitive”. This is obviously a completely inappropriate attempt to subvert transparency and the Freedom of Information Act. It also suggests that the DWP are aware that they are paying Ingeus too much, or why try to hide it? I thought that making an appeal/internal review wouldn’t make them change their minds, but I did it anyway and surprisingly it worked. (I reckon they didn’t want me publicising the fact that they were refusing to admit how much they were paying.)
It all started when I was gathering info for what would eventually become this article on Mint Press News about corporations raking in hundreds of millions from DWP contracts in a system which not only favours huge companies, but actually demands a £20m turnover to be awarded the best contracts.
It was a fun couple of weeks. I set up a fake company and became a Partner with one of the largest Work Programme Providers. I called another DWP contractor and got tons of dirt in less than 15 minutes. It wasn’t all easy street, though- there were sources who refused to speak to me and companies which, even when they told the truth, still managed to conceal how they were earning all this money (it’s less straightforward than you’d think, because a lot of the money is in helping smaller companies get DWP contracts, so a company might pull in millions from exploiting the unemployed while being paid nothing by the DWP).
So you might think that making a FOI request to the DWP would be the easiest thing of all. No getting people to talk, no tracking down people who’d done business with/worked for the companies, no getting creative with the truth about the story you’re writing and hoping they won’t work it out from the questions you’re asking (they never do). But the DWP was determined to conceal the very straightforward answer to the question “How much were [work programme companies] paid in 2013 and so far in 2014?” (They’d already rejected two previous requests for allegedly being too expensive to investigate, so with these last two, I put one company’s name in each request instead of a few in one request).
This is what the DWP said:
“I can confirm that the Department holds the information you are seeking.
However, the information you have requested is commercially sensitive and is therefore exempt from release under Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act.
The Section 43 exemption is applied on the basis that this information is commercially sensitive and release of the financial information would prejudice the interests of our suppliers and/or undermine the effectiveness of the Department’s future dealings with our service providers which is not in the public interest.
It would reveal to our suppliers competitors commercially sensitive financial aspects which would disadvantage there [sic] competitive position in the marketplace. This in turn would prejudice the ability of the Department to secure best value for the taxpayer when the contract is re-tendered.”
It could’ve been worse. At least they didn’t say the information has to be censored on grounds of public morals and national security, like China did when it banned a book.
This was my appeal against the DWP’s decision. It was upheld and the figures were released. I’m actually really surprised it was successful.
“[…] However, this information would not reveal “commercially sensitive” information to these companies’ competitors, for the following five reasons:
1) The amount that Atos and Maximus were paid by the DWP is already in the public domain. An example is here (Atos): http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/27/atos-contract-end-relief-campaigners and here (Maximus): http://www.welfareweekly.com/news-brief-dwp-award-500-million-fit-work-contract-u-s-firm-maximus/
Many more web hits exist, as you can see yourself by doing a Google search.
2) The information asked for will not “disadvantage their competitive position in the marketplace” because knowing how much a competitor is paid will not help a company compete. This information is only a figure or end result, it’s not a corporate secret such as a recipe etc which, once known, could be mass-produced by all competitors. Saying this information would disadvantage competitors is like saying that, because I know how much salary a Guardian war reporter makes, that knowledge would make me a really good journalist and I’d get that job.
3) Even if knowing a competitor’s turnover or salary does magically give companies and self-employed people the knowledge of how to improve their product, service, method of production or operations, the public interest still outweighs the issue of the DWP securing best value in tenders.
4) The issue of the DWP securing best value for taxpayers in the re-tender is unimportant, as the DWP has already wasted millions of taxpayers’ money on Work Programme companies, Jobcentre sessions, Universal Jobmatch, and other pointless activities which don’t create more jobs so don’t actually help anyone get back into work:
The DWP pays Work Programme providers 10 million to 50 million a year, and there are over 40 such providers: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/herald-view/still-much-to-do-to-make-this-programme-work.21973283 . Even if we pretend that every single WPP was only paid 10 million- not 10 to 50 million- that’s still 40 million. On top of that, contractors were overpaid by 25 million: http://www.supplymanagement.com/news/2014/work-programme-could-overpay-contractors-by-ps25-million-says-nao and, further, DWP paid 31 million this year to underperforming contractors, and in future the figure will be 61 million:
DWP paid Monster 17 million to unnecessarily create Universal Jobmatch when plenty of job search sites exist, then decided to axe it because it was not working: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/herald-view/still-much-to-do-to-make-this-programme-work.21973283
40m + 25m + 31m + 17m = 111 million, and that’s already a figure which I’ve twisted to be misleadingly lower than it really is (by pretending DWP only pays 10m to each contractor, instead of the factual figure of 10-50m).
Therefore, if the cost to the taxpayer of not securing the best value tender is less than £111m, the information I request should be given.
5) Encouraging competition is good for the economy and is integral to a free market. Competition (assuming it could be achieved by telling companies what their competitors were paid, which it can’t) would not affect DWP securing best value tenders.
Thank you for your attention in this internal review request.”
DWP gives it up
And they responded:
“[…] As a result of this review
I find that the original decision was not correct and as such your request for review is upheld.
The information that you request is that DWP paid Ingeus approx. £160m for the financial year 2013/14 (April 2013 to March 2014) and approx. £80m for the period April 2014 to October 2014.”
However we still don’t have figures for A4e, Remploy, Working Links, Seetec and others (because if I put more than two companies in a request, the DWP rejects it for being too expensive to investigate…we gotta do this one by one). So, next time you’re feeling bored…