'Government must work closely with charities when designing contracts'

Gurjit Degun
4 August 2014

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4 August 2014 | Gurjit Degun

The government needs to work more closely with charities and service users when designing contracts, according to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

It follows the “poor performance” of the Department for Work and Pension's (DWP's) Work Programme in getting harder-to-help jobseekers into work.

A report by the NCVO showed lower than expected performance levels after the first two years of the scheme. It is based on feedback from charities and the latest figures from the National Audit Office (NAO).

“A lack of consultation with service providers, including specialist charities and voluntary organisations, led to design flaws that have hampered the programme from the start,” the report said.

“Not only was there no consultation with the voluntary sector during the design of the programme but the speed of its launch also limited the opportunity for creative or collaborative approaches.”

Successful bidders for Work Programme contracts were announced in April 2011 just four months after the initial invitation to tender was published in December 2010. This gave potential prime providers little or no time to discuss with potential subcontractors, the NCVO explained.

It also said prime contractors have reduced their budget for harder to help claimants by 54 per cent since the start of the programme. “For many voluntary organisations carrying out services, a lack of referrals to the programme has put pressure on existing budgets and forced some charities to spend their reserves in order to provide services,” the report said.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy at NCVO, added: “Front-line charities are in an excellent position to help people furthest away from the job market to gain skills, experience and confidence to help them towards and into employment. The government can benefit from taking their expertise into account at the earliest stages. In the future, we would like to see voluntary organisations involved in the design process from the very beginning, to prevent the waste and inefficiencies that have blighted the Work Programme so far.”

The final referrals for the current Work Programme will take place in March 2016. The NCVO urged the government to bring charities and umbrella groups into the planning process “as soon as possible”.

A DWP spokesman said: “Charities and voluntary sector organisations play a vital part in its success by using their expert knowledge to tailor services for some of the very hardest to help people. 

“The Work Programme is helping more people than any previous employment programme and we have already helped 300,000 people to find lasting work, which has contributed to the largest fall in long-term unemployment for 16 years.”

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