There is more pertinent information about the Work Programme already in the public domain than could be gleaned from publishing its risk register, the Department for Work and Pensions has declared.
DWP’s head of risk management Jo Macdonald made the statement as part of her rationale for refusing to publish the risk registers for the Work Programme and the Youth Contract, which were both requested recently by shadow minister for civil society Gareth Thomas under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Department turned down his request in April and in May he appealed against the decision. Last month he received Macdonald’s letter explaining the reasons for not publishing the risk registers.
She said that she agreed with the original decision that was approved by the minister for employment, that the need for officials to be able to share information privately in order not to prejudice the conduct of public affairs “outweighs the public interest in publication of risk registers”.
She also made reference to the National Audit Office reports and the recent public hearing of the Public Accounts Committee into the Work Programme, and added that more information about the Programme will be published by the Office of National Statistics in the autumn.
“All of this persuades me that there is more pertinent information about the Work Programme already in the public domain than could be gleaned by sight of any risk register,” she stated.
Risk profiles ‘change constantly’
Macdonald went on to say that risk profiles are dynamic things that change regularly during a project and a snapshot at a particular point in time cannot accurately capture the “risk/reward trade-off decisions” that are made as a project progresses.
The final risk register for the Work Programme is dated June 2011 and for the Youth Contract, April 2012, she said. Now that both programmes are up and running they no longer have unique risk registers but would be encompassed within DWP’s Operational Risk Register, should they be deemed of sufficient priority.
In response to some of the points raised by Gareth Thomas in his appeal letter, Macdonald wrote: “The selection of primary providers has been discussed, I am aware of debates about the use of third sector organisations, of course as demonstrated at the PAC hearing the Department has to balance its selection of providers against a range of risks, and we have to consult and monitor the supply chain.
“Should any facts or evidence of a breach of any of the Work Programme or Youth Contract terms and conditions be presented to us, we would investigate and take action.
“That is also the case should any evidence be presented to us of providers failing in their obligations to those harder-to-help referrals.”
Macdonald concluded by stating that she agreed with Thomas’ desire for civil servants to learn and improve the design of future major procurement, but “unfortunately experience tells us that publishing risk registers does little to improve public understanding and debate”.
In response, Gareth Thomas MP said: “Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling seem determined to try to keep secret the failures of the Work Programme, which they once promised would deliver new income for charities.”