Staff at JobCentres accused of figure fiddling

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The Independent Online
Three JobCentres are being investigated by the Department for Education and Employment after allegations that they "fiddled" the numbers of people who find work through their offices, it emerged last night.

The official internal investigation covers three centres in north London where it is claimed that job-creation statistics could have been over- reported by thousands. It is believed to be alleged that job creation is being double- or even triple-counted. The Employment Service is investigating claims that managers at the JobCentres bullied clerical staff into falsifying computer lists by making up the names of people said to have gained work.

A spokeswoman for the DfEE said last night: "Following an anonymous allegation the Employment Service is conducting an internal investigation into this matter.

"We are looking into these allegations of what you could call "fiddling" the figures for the number of people getting work. The investigation will be completed by the end of April."

The JobCentres in question have not been identified.

Labour last night called for the early publication of the investigation's findings and said it showed that political sleaze was being followed by "employment sleaze".

Peter Hain, a Labour employment spokesman, said he believed civil servants were being pressurised into "fiddling" unemployment figures downwards and job-creation figures upwards. Labour believes there are similar allegations concerning other regions, including the North-east.

Mr Hain said Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Employment, should act urgently in the matter. "I believe the investigation report should be published before the general election rather than waiting until after 1 May," he said.

Labour has claimed that the monthly unemployment figures, which have been falling dramatically in recent months, are "fiddled" because of changes to the way the number of people out of work are measured.

Recently, JobCentre staff have become alarmed at violent attacks on them as a result, they say, of the open-plan design and escalation in their powers to cut benefit. In 1994 legislation introducing the Job Seekers Allowance gave JobCentre staff the authority to order benefit claimants to do community work or attend training courses and even to withhold benefit payments.

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