The majority of voluntary sector specialist subcontractors for the Work Programme have had no clients referred to them, according to informal research carried out by the London Voluntary Service Council.
Speaking yesterday at the first open evidence-gathering event of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector in London, Steve Kerr, policy officer at LVSC, said he had contacted 16 London-based VCS ‘tier 2’ subcontractors in the past two weeks to see how the Work Programme was progressing.
Kerr said he found that, almost 10 months into the programme, 11 had received no referrals. He said five were considering pulling out of the programme, two had already withdrawn and one never signed a contract and should not have been on the Department for Work and Pensions’ list of Work Programme subcontractors.
Only one of the organisations said it was happy with how things were going, he said.
Tier 2 subcontractors deliver shorter, more specialist interventions than those in the tier 1 category, focusing on tackling a particular barrier to work.
The informal survey follows a more in-depth report published by LVSC in October, called Fair Chance to Work, which found that tier 1 subcontractors had so far generally had a volume of referrals in line with expectations, while the vast majority of tier 2 groups had had no customer referrals at all.
"The majority of VCS groups involved in the Work Programme are tier 2 subcontractors," the report said. "One prime in London, for example, has 30 VCS tier 2 groups named in its supply chain. Most have seen no referrals as yet, and have no indication of how many customers they might see in any given year. Are they simply ‘bid candy’ by another name?"
Kerr told Third Sector that the situation was making life very difficult for these groups, especially when other sources of public funding for employment and skills work was drying up for VCS organisations.
"Just as worryingly, the lack of referrals to specialist tier 2 subcontractors is symptomatic of flaws in the design of the Work Programme, which suggests it isn't offering disadvantaged clients the support they need," he said.
A DWP spokeswoman said the LVSC figures were not representative because there were 76 tier 2 voluntary and public sector organisations working on the programme in London.
"From our last audit in December, 20 per cent of all referrals were being made to voluntary and community sector organisations," she said.
"Only a small number of voluntary sector organisations have left the Work Programme. When we've looked into those cases, we've found issues about financial problems unrelated to the Work Programme or serious under-performance."
The independence panel is publishing five annual assessments into the sector’s independence. Its members include Professor Nicholas Deakin, Sir Bert Massie, the former Compact commissioner, and Dame Anne Owers, former chief inspector of prisons.