Grayling backs charity after failure to land jobs contract
Kate Delvin, Herald Scotland
EMPLOYMENT Minister Chris Grayling has said he was “disappointed” a leading Scottish charity lost out on a large contract to a firm led by one of his department’s former top officials.
Speaking publicly about the row involving the Wise Group for the first time, Mr Grayling said he hoped the Glasgow-based social enterprise would still be involved in Government plans.
The Herald revealed last week that the charity, which helped thousands of people back into work last year, had lost out on the multimillion-pound contract.
It was beaten by two private sector firms with much less Scottish experience, including one run by a former civil servant at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
In his first public comments the Conservative minister told The Herald he was “very disappointed” that the Wise Group had not been awarded the contract.
But Mr Grayling added that it would have been wrong for him to intervene in the independent process to decide who should run the massive Government Work Programme, which is designed to get hundreds of thousands of people back into the workplace.
He said that he was happy with how the selection had been made, adding that it had been independently audited.
Mr Grayling said he was keen for the Wise Group still to be involved as a sub-con- tractor.
He said: “The key question is, do I wish The Wise Group had won a primary contract?
“I was very disappointed that they didn’t. I have a lot of respect for the Wise Group.
“But ministers do not and cannot intervene on in a properly audited processes to favour any one group over another.
“What we have done, because I want the Wise Group to be part of the Work Programme is that we have talked very actively to the prime providers.
“I hear what people are saying in Scotland.
“But what I can’t do is fix a process – that would not be right, it would be totally wrong, I would be severely criticised if I did.
“But what I can do is encourage prime contractors to work closely with high quality organisations in Scotland.”
Mr Grayling attended a summit with the Wise Group in the Scotland Office in Edinburgh last week on the day the story broke.
The Coalition Government announced at the start of this month the preferred bidders for the programme.
Although the Wise Group – which has which has 650 staff and last year helped 5353 people into work – had been long-listed, it lost out to two private sector firms.
One, Ingeus UK, won its bid just a year after it appointed Dean James, a former senior civil servant in the Department of Work and Pensions, as its chief executive.
Charities warned that the allocations of the contracts to private firms, and not the third sector, proved that the Coalition’s talk of the Big Society was hollow.
There were also accusa- tions that, although the DWP had said successful bidders must guarantee that almost a third of each contract was delivered by the voluntary sector, when Ingeus won its Scottish contract it planned just 8% use of the voluntary sector.
Last night the SNP’s Christina McKelvie called on Mr Grayling to reopen the process.
She said: “If Chris Grayling is saying that, then the Coali-tion Government should take a serious look at the process.
“These are weasel words, he seems to be saying this is nothing to do with him, nothing to see here.
“It is not good enough.”