Some charities have entered into bad contracts under the Work Programme because of "naivety or desperation" and the government is unable to help them, according to Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society.
In an interview with Third Sector, Hurd said the government would help charities that were delivering the government’s welfare-to-work scheme if they could prove they had been treated unreasonably by prime contractors delivering the programme.
But he said there was little the government could do to help charities that were struggling with the terms of contracts they had signed up to.
"We have to be quite frank and say that if there’s a situation where a voluntary sector organisation has just entered into a bad contract out of naivety or desperation, then there’s not a great deal that we can or should do in that situation," he said.
"If there are valid concerns about how the programme is structured or how prime contractors are working, then charities need to tell us and we will represent those concerns. But we also have to say that a number of organisations entered into contracts that they shouldn’t have done, and actually the government’s ability to sort that out is quite limited."
Hurd said his stance was "a robust line" but was necessary. "Sometimes the government has to be robust with the sector; it can’t hold hands all the time," he said.
Hurd said charities should not think of the Work Programme as a scheme intended to support the voluntary sector. "We should always remind ourselves that it is a programme of getting people back into work, and it is not a programme set up to produce funding for the voluntary sector," he said."The voluntary sector’s participation and ability to earn money from it will depend on results.
"I’ve no grounds to believe that the Work Programme is not going to work well for the voluntary sector over its seven-year life."
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations warned last week that the programme could threaten the sustainability of some of the charities involved, because prime contractors on the scheme did not give voluntary sector subcontractors enough protection from financial risk.