THERE is a long history to the anger over the Scottish Government’s announcement of the winners of £96 million worth of employability contracts.

Charities have been outraged, arguing the majority of businesses awarded a share of the work are in the private sector, and many have a chequered history of involvement in the UK Government’s largely discredited Work Programme.

I was reporting on this six years go when it was SNP MSPs who were furious, with Work Programme contracts awarded to big private operators such as Ingeus and Working Links, squeezing out Scottish charities and social enterprises, notably the Glasgow-based Wise Group.

Now minister for employability Jamie Hepburn has announced the contract-winners for nine new regions which will administer the Fair Start Scotland service from April next year. The UK Government’s scheme saw just two contracts covering the whole of Scotland.

The Wise Group features, having been awarded the contract for the west region, while the charity Momentum Scotland has bagged that for North East Scotland. But while Mr Hepburn claims the third sector has significant involvement in two other contract areas, and supported business Remploy will manage two more, charities say it is a far cry from the distinctively Scottish solution which was promised.

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations says only 13.8% of the value of the contracts will be charity-led. John Downie, director of public affairs for SCVO, said: “The Scottish Government’s ambitions were that the third sector would be heart and centre of the new employability landscape, but instead charities and voluntary organisations have been side-lined to make way for private companies which lack the local knowledge required.” Smaller would-be bidders say that they were put off by a tendering process which seemed to exclude them. Cyrenians’ chief Ewan Aitken has described the process as “a scandal”.

Fraser Kelly, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise Scotland welcomed the appointment of the Wise Group, but added: “We find it hard to understand how, after such a thorough consultation process, the vast majority of contracts have been awarded to big private sector corporations.”

Those likely to be on the receiving end of the Fair Start service are equally unimpressed. Dr Sally Witcher, of Inclusion Scotland said disabled people did not trust the organisations involved to treat them with dignity, respect and fairness, and would feel let down.

Corporate winners include Working Links, which Inclusion Scotland says has a record of imposing high levels of sanctions on claimants – although the Scottish Government has promised sanctions will not be a feature of the new system. PeoplePlus, formerly known as A4E, was operating under that name when it was cleared of systematically defrauding the taxpayer, although six individual employees were convicted in 2015. A third firm, Maximus, is behind the Remploy bids, but is tainted by its involvement in the DWP’s controversial Work Capability Assessments.

The onus is now on the winning bidders to show they can deliver, whatever their past record, Dr Witcher says.

Hepburn may feel that only these bigger private sector players have the experience to deliver. But deliver what? More of the same is not what was promised. Having pledged a system based on dignity, fairness and respect, the Scottish Government will also be under scrutiny.