Prime providers starving Work Programme subcontractors of referrals
The Government’s flagship Work Programme has come under fire from a number of the organisations responsible for its delivery.
Under the scheme, launched earlier this year by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), providers are paid by the Government for successful placements, with fees increasing the longer a participant stays in work. Contracts to deliver the Programme are held by ‘prime providers’ who pass on referrals to small, local subcontractors – an approach intended to provide what the Government has termed a “boost for the big society”.
However, the Programme has already come in for significant criticism over the way it has worked in practice, with concerns that many of these subcontractors are finding their role in the scheme unsustainable.
Last month, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) claimed that some subcontractors had not yet received any Work Programme referrals from their prime provider and, in some cases, had not even been given a contract. The NCVO also said that some voluntary organisations felt they had been used as “bid candy” by prime providers during the tendering process.
Also in October, a report from the London Voluntary Services Council (LVSC) claimed that prime providers were passing the Programme’s “high risk outcome based pricing structure on to groups in their supply chains, regardless of size or financial capacity of subcontractors.”
Dawn Whiteley, chief executive of the National Enterprise Network, told BAD News that many of the Network’s members had also reported problems, suggesting that “prime contractors and their end-to-end providers are holding onto clients because the payment arrangements are not constructed to support effective referral.”
She said: “We have a number of members who are involved in the delivery of the Work Programme, specifically where they are within the supply chain to provide specialist self-employment support.
“We also have a large number of members who tell us that the prime providers within their areas are not really addressing self-employment, preferring instead to concentrate their efforts on job outcomes.”
Network members’ experiences of delivering similar programmes in the past had shown that self employment “can be and often is a really valuable and positive outcome for unemployed people,” she said, adding, “we would like to see almost a mandatory inclusion of specialist self-employment provision within every prime contractor’s supply chain.”
“However,” she said, “what we also need to address is the appropriate sharing of clients relevant for self-employment so that the right opportunities are being taken for those clients on an individual basis”.
The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) has blamed a backlog of work-capability assessments for the difficulties faced by some subcontractors in delivering the scheme, and Atos, which carries out the assessments, has completed just 56,000 since January despite Government targets to process 11,000 cases a week and provide 20% of Work Programme referrals. Early estimates indicate that the actual referral figure is between 3% and 5%.
In a written parliamentary question to employment minister Chris Grayling last week, MP Stephen Timms asked what steps were being taken to address the shortage of referrals. Mr Grayling responded that referral arrangements were matters between prime providers and their supply chain partners.
He did say, however, that the DWP has set standards of supply chain management and fair treatment of subcontractors, and that “providers will be penalised for non-compliance”.
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