Action for Blind People spent £73,000 of staff time on Work Programme

It has received a 'negligible' number of referrals from prime contractors, chief executive Stephen Remington tells MPs

Stephen Remington
Stephen Remington

Action for Blind People spent £73,000 of staff time preparing information for the Work Programme but got a "negligible" number of referrals from the seven prime contractors it works for, according to a parliamentary report.

A written submission from the charity to the Public Accounts Committee said the cost of staff time spent on completing expressions of interest and providing other contracting information could have funded three front-line posts to support its services to people with sight loss. It said these pre-contract costs were "wasteful and disproportionate".

The submission from Stephen Remington, chief executive of the charity, appeared in the committee’s report on the Work Programme, published this week.

The charity said it incurred an extra £6,000 in unforeseen costs across England to meet requirements that were added post contract, such as a doubling of insurance provision and additional security measures that made the programme "even less viable" for the organisation.

The statement said: "You may wonder why we do not simply withdraw from the Work Programme as soon as our contracts permit. We are considering this option. However, we continue to feel that it is better to be in the tent and try to improve the system from the inside rather than excluding ourselves and risking further marginalising the chances of our client group."

The charity said it should have a right to expect referrals from prime contractors that had "gained credibility by naming us as a specialist contractor in their bids".

It said the lack of referrals "increases suspicion of ‘creaming and parking’ and even of exploitation of charities like ours that are desperate to ensure their vulnerable group gets access to government programmes".

A spokesman for the charity said this week that since it made the submission in February it had been engaged in "constructive discussion" with one of the Work Programme providers that it hoped would create referrals. "We want the Work Programme to work and are really encouraged we are in these ongoing discussions," he said.

The charity is a subcontractor for three prime providers in its own right and four as part of the consortium Disability Works UK.

The committee’s report asked the Department for Work and Pensions for assurances that "subcontractors, especially charities, are treated fairly, that they were not misled into accepting inappropriate contracts and that they receive the number of cases and funding that they were promised".

It said the DWP should check whether subcontractors were getting the agreed workload and whether the administration fees of prime contractors were justified when it audits the performance of the prime contractors against the Merlin Standard later this year.

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