Charities sweat on Pathways to Work decision

Voluntary sector organisations are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Department for Work and Pensions' Pathways to Work contracts, which will identify preferred bidders for the second phase of the programme today.

A small group of charities, including the Shaw Trust, Scout Enterprises (Western), Advance UK and Royal British Legion Industries, are hoping to be awarded business from the 16 contracts that are up for grabs.

The DWP will inform its chosen preferred bidders today before entering a period of exclusive negotiations with them before the contracts are officially announced in December.

The department has come under fire from the sector amid claims that the procurement process unfairly discriminated against charities, particularly when it came to the transfer of staff already employed to carry out the work (Third Sector Online, 25 September).

The Shaw Trust was the only charity to secure contracts available in the first phase, announced last month. The charity, which landed two contracts in the first phase, submitted bids in all 16 of the areas up for grabs this time around.

Catherine A’Bear, chief corporate affairs officer at the trust, said the process was “a bit like waiting for your exam results. It has been a good closed-tender process in that you cannot predict the outcome.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for housing, support and employment charity Advance UK said the organisation was cautiously optimistic that it would be chosen as a preferred bidder for the second round.

“Because there was so little to offer the voluntary sector in phase one, it may be that phase two will bring a different outcome,” he said. “It would be very strange if they ignored our delivery track record in areas like the New Deal for Disabled People.”

Alan Pepler, regional business director for the south west at employment charity Scout Enterprises (Western), said the organisation was going for three contracts. “We are very hopeful, but you cannot say any more than that,” he said.

A delegation of charities, led by chief executives umbrella body Acevo, met work and pensions secretary Peter Hain last week in a bid to thrash out a solution for future procurement processes involving the sector (Third Sector Online, 5 October).

But Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, said Hain had told the group that it was too late for those talks to have any bearing on the outcome of this round of contracts.

“I am pessimistic for the sector in the short term, but optimistic that in the longer term this will cause the department to review its procurement processes,” said Bubb.

A DWP spokesman confirmed that the preferred bidders would be notified this week and the contracts would be agreed by week commencing 17 December. More than 100 tenders from all sectors had been received by the department, he added.

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