The Close Protection UK (CPUK) ‘London Bridge incident’ casts a grim spotlight on the nature of the government’s Work Programme. A total of 80 persons were bussed in from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth, 50 of them ‘apprentices’ paid £2.80 an hour (when the minimum wage if £6.08 an hour) and 30 unemployed paid nothing at all, in order to act as stewards for the jubilee pageant. Dropped at London Bridge at 3am, they were told to ‘camp’ there on top of the concrete, change into cellophame macks and combat trousers in the open air, woken at 5.30am, and then did a 16-hour shift, with just a sandwich and bag of crisps, and no access to useable toilets for 24 hours.
No.10 dismissed the public furore by nonchalantly claiming it was a “0ne off” and an “isolated incident”. How do they know that? The only reason the rest of us got to know about this is that treating people like cattle contrasted so sharply with the ostentatious grandeur of the pageant that it got reported. If it had happened in some non-descript town – as it does every day – it would have gone unnoticed. The real scandal is that, so far from being a one-off, the steady trickle of outrageous stories about the treatment of the under-class indicates that this is now commonplace in Coalition Britain.
The value of the stewarding contract for the jubilee was £1.5 million. So how much was pocketed by CPUK and its manager Molly Prince, though clearly not enough to justify paying anything at all to unemployed jobseekers? Prince, it turns out, has been director of no less than 8 previous companies since 2006, all in the same line of business, and all dissolved, many after being run from the same address in Wigan as CPUK.
This is not the first time that the government’s infamous Work Programme has run into trouble. Jobcentre Plus has been wound up and lucrative contracts have been showered on private providers who are supposed to get people back into work. By far the biggest of these privateers, A4E run by Emma Harrison who paid herself £1.4m and lived in a huge mansion together with several of her friends’ families, was found not only to be corrupt but also failing lamentably to fulfil the contract for which it was paid so handsomely. Though the company cherry-picked those most likely to return to work, the proportion it helped back into employment was far lower than Jobcentre Plus, they stayed in work for far less time, and the work was generally more low-paid and temporary.