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Welfare to Work

Welfare to Work is the programme run by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) which sources, procures and manages the delivery of employment, skills and training services in England.

NCVO Special Interest Group for Work Programme sub-contractors

NCVO's Special Interest Group represents voluntary and community organisations involved in the Welfare to Work initiative. The group enables sub-contractors to share their experiences, provides them with information and advice, and enables NCVO to feed their concerns to Government. The group is open to all voluntary and community organisations who act as sub-contractors in the Work Programme. 

Some initial concerns from civil society organisations

Using feedback from the NCVO Special Interest Group, we have published a report, The Work Programme - Initial Concerns from Civil Society Organisations (PDF, 228KB). The paper raises concerns that the knowledge and experience of civil society organisations is being seriously under-used through a lack of referrals, unfavourable conditions being imposed, unsustainable prices being offered, and the under-use of the sector's expertise in the wider commissioning process.

It concludes that not only could many civil society providers feel squeezed out and financially vulnerable, but that the widespread under-utilisation of the sector seriously reduces the effectiveness of the work programme, potentially leading to widespread failure. Importantly, the paper also raises concerns regarding the Merlin Standard's (see below) effectiveness in addressing many of the problems highlighted.

Concerns raised in the report include:

  • too much premium was placed on 'price' rather than 'quality' during the tendering stage
  • there is too much emphasis on using CSOs for service delivery rather than the wider commissioning, design and evaluation process
  • the overly bureaucratic procurement processes adopted by some primes has created a barrier to some sub-contractors entering the Work Programme
  • there are concerns that primes will not pass on sufficient upfront fees to their subcontractor partners, many of whom will be financially vulnerable 'niche' providers unable to wait for the delay in payment associated with a PbR system
  • the differential payments model will not prevent 'creaming and parking' within customer groups or geographical areas
  • many tier 2 providers are yet to receive any Work Programme referrals, or in some cases contracts from their prime, reinforcing concerns that some CSOs have been used as 'bid candy'

Recommendations made in the report include:

  • There should be more transparency in future Government commissioning processes to instil confidence that price is not afforded undue priority in tenders.
  • DWP should do more to ensure prime contractors engage with their local civil society in the wider commissioning, design and evaluation processes and not just service delivery.
  • As recommended by Lord Hodgson's Red Tape Review, Government should ensure that tender documents are proportionate to the size of the contract on offer and PQQs for smaller organisations should in most cases be dispensed with. Information that can be acquired from accounts, Companies' House or Charity Commission returns should not be requested from the CSO in question.
  • Government should look immediately at current funding arrangements to ensure money passed on to sub-contractors is both fair and sufficient to carry out the work.
  • Government should consider underwriting a small proportion of the contract value for CSOs.
  • DWP should regularly publish performance data relating to referrals, job outcomes, job sustainment outcomes and payments across a wide range of customer groups including age, race, region, disability, lone parents, homeless and "not in employment, education or training" (NEETs). Not only would this data allow providers to be held to account, it would also help to disseminate good practice throughout the Work Programme.

Recommended reading

Further information

  • Indus Delta - the leading website for information, news and discussion on the employment, skills and training (welfare-to-work) sector
  • The Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion - not-for-profit company dedicated to tackling disadvantage and promoting social justice. Particulary active in the areas of welfare-to-work and the Work Programme
  • London Employment and Skills Policy Network - the strategic voice of the London welfare-to-work voluntary sector, but also a great source of nationally relevant research and information. Facilitated by London Voluntary Service Council
  • ERSA - The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the trade body for the welfare to work industry
  • House of Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions - a cross party committee reviewing the delivery of policy and services on welfare-to-work and pensions. Periodically sends out inquiries on key issues, seeking to engage and consult with external partners
  • DWP Notices to Providers - notices on key issues affecting and of interest to providers, from TUPE to updates on contract schedules
  • The Merlin Standard (PDF, 774KB) - designed by the DWP with providers and representative bodies to help evolve successful, high performing supply chains, and champion positive behaviours and relationships in the delivery of provision
  • Work Programme Prospectus (PDF, 33KB) - outlining the Work Programme framework and timetable

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