The NAO report, called 'The Work Programme' and published on 2 July, said that the programme is “achieving similar levels of job outcomes to previous welfare-to-work programmes for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants aged 25 and over.”
Asked by Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Margaret Hodge whether this is disappointing, Devereux said: “That is precisely the thing which I have chosen to disagree with the report on,” adding that this is the first time he’s disagreed with a report in his seven years as perm sec.
At Monday’s PAC hearing, Devereux (pictured above) was asked by committee member Anne McGuire why he hadn’t made the point to the NAO prior to the release of the report. “Believe me, Amyas [Morse, NAO chief] and I have spent hours discussing the report,” he replied. “At the end of the day, though, it is his pen.”
The report’s findings, Devereux said, are not a “fair reflection of what is actually going on.” He added that “it is not the report I would have expected an auditor to be making.”
The permanent secretary said the conclusion was unfair because the Work Programme is already achieving better results than those predicted by the NAO in 2012: “When I was here in 2012 the NAO [estimated] that 26% of older jobseekers would get a job outcome over the course of a two-year programme. The report in front of you today says that for the last cohort that actually completed two years in March 2012, the percentage of job outcomes achieved is 32% - not the 26% which they were quoting.”
Based on this performance, he said, the department expects this number to reach 38% over the programme’s life time.
Hodge expressed scepticism over the 38% figure, to which Devereux replied: “I am sorry, throughout the report the NAO makes the projections by the department sound as if they are crystal ball-gazing, and they have not taken any account of the fact that actually, I have got 23 months of information for the cohort immediately after March 2012; 22 months for the one two months after.”
Hodge concluded that “we all too often end up with an argument over figures here”, adding that “since the general election the UK Statistics Authority has sent 47 letters criticising and recommending changes to the use of statistics by government departments or agencies; 16 of those letters have come to the DWP; so you are not using them properly.”
Devereux defended the figures, saying: “Nothing I have said, chair, is not already published in the document which the National Audit Office produced. I have not invented any number this afternoon which the National Audit Office has not reproduced themselves.”