Documenting Past Failures: (10) LBWF and Worknet: a tale of underperformance, failure, and the betrayal of local people

Between 2008 and 2014, LBWF operated Worknet, a multi-million pound programme, funded from London and central government sources, delivered by outside ‘partners’, and aimed at helping local people find employment.

At first, LBWF gave Worknet significant publicity, and presented it as a major initiative. For example, in November 2009, Council Leader Cllr. Chris Robbins told WFN: ‘“Waltham Forest have always said our 2012 Legacy…will be…jobs, education and opportunity…Huge strides have been taken towards achieving that…with our Worknet jobs programme”’.

However, by late 2013, Worknet had all but faded from view. Indeed, when I attended a consultation with Council staff that year, and asked how it was going, I was told emphatically: ‘We don’t talk about Worknet anymore – we are told not to mention it’.

What had gone wrong?

My own interest in Worknet was triggered by the O-Regen affair (covered in a previous post). For in investigating why the charity had collapsed, I discovered, first, that it had been one of the outside ‘partners’ contracted to deliver Worknet (surprising in itself, given its lack of relevant expertise and obviously dubious finances); second, that its performance had been execrable, with target outputs missed, some spectacularly; and third, that the little it had achieved was also questionable as there was credible evidence of double counting (that is, using the same service users’ names two or more times in unrelated monitoring reports) and a more general problem with ‘fictional figures’.

So once again, I began to investigate, and (after endless obstruction from LBWF) in July 2013 completed a thoroughgoing report on what turned out to be a major fiasco. I have placed the latter in the documents box to the left, and reproduced  the executive summary, below.

What leaves a particularly bad taste in the mouth is that here is yet another instance where local people were short-changed. Worknet could have helped those seeking jobs. The programme’s shortcomings became obvious fairly early on, and could have been mitigated. LBWF could have learnt the lessons. Yet none of these things happened, and millions of pounds simply evaporated into nothingness, or even worse was unspent because unclaimed from funders (yes, you did read that right: £1.9m earmarked and available for spend went unclaimed because LBWF was so disorganised).

And there was a particularly revealing coda.

Because after I had produced my initial findings, councillors from the Conservative and Liberal parties decided to hold a scrutiny panel investigation into what had gone on, and invited me to address them. Yet it turned out that this was to be the the panel’s sole effective action, because all the others who were invited to give evidence – including senior LBWF staff – suddenly found they had other more pressing engagements, and so in the end Labour was able to argue that, since so little had been achieved, or looked like being achieved, no further action was merited. The episode is well recounted here:

http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/10586263.Panel_examining_unemployment_scheme_failings_closed_down/

 

LBWF and Worknet: a tale of underperformance, failure, and the betrayal of local people

  • From 2008 onwards, LBWF has run a Worknet programme, aimed at addressing joblessness.
  • The total value of the programme to date is c. £8-9m., with funding coming from a number of London and central government sources.
  • LBWB’s main contractors in delivering Worknet have been first O-Regen, and then Kennedy Scott, Widows and Orphans International, and Reed in Partnership, with only the latter now left in the scheme.
  • LBWF specified output targets for all contracts, but its monitoring of what was actually achieved has been at best uneven, on occasion wholly absent.
  • However, it is clear that all of the providers – bar Reed in 2012-13 – have performed poorly, with most targets missed by wide margins.
  • In addition, it is equally clear that the quality of some of the provision that has occurred can only be called questionable.
  • On top of everything else, in one case, that of O-Regen, LBWF staff believed that fraudulent ‘double counting’ was occurring, though no real disciplinary or legal sanction followed.
  • Faced with their contractors’ failure, LBWF time after time paid out far less than the sums initially agreed.
  • The fate of much of the unspent funding remains unknown, but in the case of two contracts worth £4,233,259, it is established (see paragraphs 28, 29, 35, and 36 below) that a mere £267,705 (or 6 per cent) was spent as envisaged (i.e. by the contractor between the contract start and end dates), while £481,773 (11 per cent) was passed on to successor projects, £1,546,249 (37 per cent) was fed into the council’s reserves and general fund, and £1,937,532 (46 per cent) was unclaimed from funders.
  • Seeking to provide reassurance, in 2012 LBWF commissioned an audit report on Worknet, but this turned out to be as flawed as the programme itself.
  • What makes this depressing litany even more concerning is the fact that many important questions about this whole affair remain unanswered.

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