Confirmation that Back to Work is using public funds to run "assessment centres" at local hotels free of charge on behalf of individual businesses looking to fill vacancies
FOI Reference No: 202-03-57637
Date of Request: 11 February 2015
Date of Response: 05 March 2015Request:
The total costs of running four Back to Work “Assessment Centres” for jobseekers at the Best Western Royal Hotel, David Place, St Helier on various dates during the first week of August 2014 in order to help Tesco by Alliance recruit general assistants and supervisors for its new retail store in Charing Cross.
Identify which costs, if any, were incurred by Back to Work and which costs, if any, were paid by Tesco by Alliance.
Confirm whether these costs include any estimate of the time spent by Social Security Department staff in arranging for jobseekers to attend the centres and in staff attending the centres themselves, or any other staff costs that may have been incurred.
Confirm who paid for the hire of the facilities at the Best Western Royal Hotel, David Place, St Helier.States of Jersey Response:
Answers provided in order requested:
Q1 There were 5 Assessment Centres run over the 2 days. 04/08: 1.30 – 3.00pm; 3.30 – 5.00pm
05/08: 9.30 – 11.00am; 11.30 – 1.00pm; 1.30 -- 3.00pm
We negotiated a total discounted rate of £320 for all 5 events. This was for room hire.
Q2 The total costs were paid by Back to Work. There were no costs paid by Tesco by Alliance
Q3 These costs do not include an estimate of staff time. No additional staff costs were incurred other than normal salary.
Q4 Back to Work paid for the hire of the facilities My comments on the above:
The answer to this request won't come as a major surprise, but it confirms what most of us have long suspected: that the taxpayer is picking up 100%
of the bill when Back to Work organises specific recruitment events on behalf of local employers.
We are all aware of major recruitment events such as Jobsfest because the Establishment media heavily promotes them on behalf of Back to Work without asking any difficult questions (the latest of these free publicity puffs, about a 'Job Match' event held on behalf of the hospitality sector, was broadcast on ITV News Channel TV on Monday evening, 16th March - reporter: 'Senator' Leah Ferguson):
However, there are also many other smaller events that take place throughout the year, usually located in conference rooms in the Best Western Royal Hotel, David Place. These smaller events are different because they are run on behalf of just one individual employer
at a time rather than many different employers competing equally for the attention of jobseekers. Consequently, that particular employer gets a clear advantage over its commercial competitors
because Back to Work staff select jobseekers who supposedly have suitable skills or experience matching the employer's requirements and force them to attend. The employer not only gets exclusive face-to-face access to these jobseekers for several hours, but can rely on their full participation and concentration because Back to Work staff are conveniently positioned on each communal table in order to 'police' the jobseekers and ensure that any acts of non-cooperation, disinterest or dissent are spotted, reported and sometimes punished by sanctions.
The jobseekers who are selected by Back to Work staff have no free choice as to whether or not to attend - they will be sanctioned if they fail to provide 'good cause' for non-attendance and as my previous FOI requests have already begun to reveal, those who fail to provide an excuse for non-attendance at or before the event starts have virtually no chance of getting a sanction overturned later on appeal, no matter how convincing their excuse is. Persons who are issued with a Breach 3 sanction for non-attendance at these events could well end up homeless as a consequence, regardless of whether or not they ever make it as far as an 'independent' Social Security Tribunal hearing, which they have absolutely no chance of winning anyway.
The atmosphere during these events is very false with an underlying sinister element. The jobseekers are pretending that they're really pleased and privileged to have been selected to attend the event and those amongst them who really don't give a flying f*ck for this employer or its employment practices are desperately trying to conceal such dissident thoughts from their Job Coaches. Meanwhile, the employer's fresh-faced representatives, usually females from the Human Resources Department, try to create a jokey, relaxed ambience. These events are very often thinly-veiled attempts by the employer to promote itself and its commercial products in a positive light. Typically, the jobseekers will be forced to listen to a boring speech, usually conducted with the aid of Powerpoint. As is standard practice, a cheap hotel pen and notepad is supplied to every participant, with the compulsory jug of mineral water at the centre of each table (is this sounding all too familiar?). Then after the speech, everyone participates in pointless 'team-building' exercises in groups, with Job Coaches closely monitoring what is being said at each table. Very often these team-building exercises have little or no relevance to the type of duties that would be performed in the jobs on offer, so nothing of great importance is actually learned.
With respect to my specific request concerning the event held on behalf of Alliance supermarket last August, we have learned that the declared cost of room hire was £320
and that "There were no costs paid by Tesco by Alliance"
. The actual declared cost of hiring the room is of little relevance in itself. What we really learn from this response is that similar events taking place under the auspices of Back to Work must also be charged completely to the taxpayer, with the employer contributing nothing at all. No wonder then that the total cost of providing employment services topped £8 million in 2013 and is believed to have risen again substantially during 2014.
However, this response makes it clear that the £320 declared costs "do not include an estimate of staff time"
. This is a major omission as the staff costs of organising and attending each event might well exceed the £320 cost of the room hire. If Back to Work stopped organising all these events, many hundreds of hours of staff time would be saved each year and the resources could either be re-allocated where they are more urgently needed (such as on the front desk at Income Support in La Motte Street), or it would be possible to cut the States wage bill by laying off some of the Job Coaches (perish the mere thought!). Anyone who has to regularly endure waits of more than half an hour to get to speak to one of only 2-3 staff on the Income Support desk will understand how desperately that re-allocation of resources is needed.
In the near future, I hope to reveal exactly what the staff costs of Back to Work amount to as a proportion of total Back to Work costs- I am currently awaiting a FOI response on that subject...