DWP hits back at criticism of Work Programme

5 October 2011

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5 October 2011 | Adam Leach and Rebecca Ellinor

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has defended its claim that the Work Programme has set a new “gold standard for procurement” but says only time will tell if it’s ultimately successful.

Responding to SM readers who posted comments on the Work Programme feature published in August and criticism in other media, commercial director David Smith told SM: “People will have a different view as to whether it’s a gold standard or a bronze standard. This was a complex procurement, delivered to an aggressive timetable and is at the heart of welfare reform. We’ve gone from a minister starting in office, requesting commercial arrangements and everything needed to deliver this programme to people walking through the door in a year. That’s pretty groundbreaking in government – in fact in any sector for a project of its size and scale. Time will tell, but early signs say it will be successful.”

The DWP said many of the improvements put in place in the Work Programme, which helps get the jobless back into work, have been used in subsequent procurements both within DWP and in other government departments.

Critics argued the procurement was skewed towards private sector providers who could stump up the initial investment and take on risk. The department said while third sector and SME suppliers are more likely to be involved as sub-contractors they have a key role to play and there are plenty of opportunities.

“There are two third sector prime providers and a public sector prime provider, in addition to the other primes, and below that there are 1,100 SMEs and voluntary sector organisations in the direct supply chain,” said Smith.

The department said the 1,100 figure is higher than previous contracts such as the Flexible New Deal, which was launched in 2008 and was Labour’s equivalent to the Work Programme. First tier suppliers include Action for Blind People, Barnardo’s and Salvation Army.

The DWP is also confident the programme will balance cost and quality. “Several bids failed because they didn't get the right balance between low cost and quality. Providers were also measured and will be held against their minimum service standards,” said a spokesman. “This is an outcome-based model so those organisations that come up and develop the most effective model for getting people into long-term employment will receive the greatest reward.”

Read the comments and department's full official response in the feedback section below the original feature here

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