Charities Warn of Flaws in Work Programme

The Work Programme is at risk of ‘systemic failure’ unless some significant issues are addressed, according to a group of over 100 charity sub-contractors.

The charities, all members of the National Council for Voluntary Organisation’s Special Interest Group for  Work Programme sub-contractors, are voicing concerns that the new welfare-to-work initiative in its current form could leave many voluntary sector providers feeling squeezed out and financially vulnerable. They have sent a paper The Work Programme – Initial Concerns from Civil Society Organisations to the Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, calling on the Government to ensure that sector is involved fairly within the programme.

Many sub-contractors have reported that they have not yet received any Work Programme referrals or in some cases even received contracts from their prime contractor, reinforcing concerns that some voluntary organisations have been used as ‘bid candy’ to make prime contractor supply chains look more attractive during the tendering stage.

Their key concerns centre around a number of issues, including the effectiveness of the Merlin Standard (a code of conduct for ensuring that sub-contractors are treated fairly by their prime contractor partners). The group has raised concerns that the current timescale for prime contractors to obtain Merlin accreditation within one year of starting Work Programme contracts is too long, leaving voluntary sector providers vulnerable to mistreatment and financial risk in the meantime.  They are also concerned that those who are unemployed but not claiming benefits – approximately 178,000 in London alone – will not receive assistance under the programme.

 The group recommends that the Government should:

  • acknowledge that civil society involvement in the Work Programme has fallen short of assurances;
  • monitor customer flows and investigate the reasons behind any potential lack of referrals to sub-contractors,
  • look at current funding arrangements to ensure that money passed on to sub-contractors is both fair and sufficient to carry out the work.  This follows from concerns that prime contractors may not pass on sufficient upfront fees to their supply chain partners, many of whom will be financially vulnerable ‘niche’ providers.
  • Look at the feasibility of preventing prime contractors from also being frontline providers to avoid the inevitable conflicts of interest outlined in the paper.

The paper also recommends monitoring sub-contracting arrangements to ensure that they avoid undue bureaucracy. One member of the group has reported signing a contact 140 pages long but has received no referrals to date.




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