Work Programme applicant had to submit 'more than 100 expressions of interest'

Suppliers forum highlights concerns about application process for the Department for Work and Pensions' welfare-to-work scheme

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of Employment Related Services Association
Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of Employment Related Services Association

One organisation had to fill in more than 100 separate expressions of interest when seeking contracts  for the government’s Work Programme.

Such duplication of effort was one of the main concerns raised by members of the Supply Chain Forum, a new group of prime contractors and subcontractors. The Shaw Trust, the Papworth Trust and Tomorrow’s People are among the voluntary sector members.

The Employment Related Services Association, which has 76 members that provide welfare schemes on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, established the forum to allow contractors to share experiences.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of ERSA, would not name the organisation that had filled in more than 100 forms but said many members had expressed similar concerns.

McHugh told Third Sector that most expression of interest forms required similar information and it would save members time and money if they were standardised and streamlined as much as possible.

"The DWP’s commissioning timetable was so rapid that nobody had time to have conversations about these kinds of things," she said.

McHugh said subcontractors were also concerned that some of the more onerous contract terms, such as data handling, were being passed down the supply chain to them. All five-year Work Programme contracts have been live since the end of June.

McHugh said her biggest concern about the Work Programme was the extent to which the economic downturn made the payment-by-results contract targets achievable. She said the demands placed on contractors were greater than any previous welfare-to-work scheme.

"Organisations should not have got into any contracts that they did not think were achievable," she said. "But the big unknown is the economy."

The DWP is now commissioning an organisation to conduct assessments of whether prime contractors are adhering to the Merlin Standard, the code of conduct that aims to ensure sub-contractors are treated fairly.

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