Sector demands clarity on its service delivery role

Charities have criticised a Department for Work and Pensions report that outlines how public services will be commissioned in future, claiming it lacked detail about the voluntary sector's role.

An interim report into the DWP’s ongoing review of its commissioning strategy, published on Tuesday, said it was committed to working with the voluntary sector on the delivery of public services.

But chief executives group Acevo and umbrella body the NCVO claimed that the report fell short because it failed to provide any specific measures to address the shortfalls in the commissioning process, which saw charities miss out on the bulk of Pathways to Work contracts earlier this year.

Only one charity, the Shaw Trust, secured any of the 16 contracts that were awarded to run Pathways to Work services in the first phase of the programme, which is designed to get people on incapacity benefit back into employment.

Chief executives body Acevo said it was disappointed that the report lacked detail on how the voluntary sector would be involved in future commissioning and showed a lack of understanding of the Compact, the agreement governing relations between the sector and government.

“It is now essential that the department establish, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, precisely how it intends to make the journey it has mapped out a reality,” said Peter Kyle, director of strategy and enterprise at Acevo. “It is also imperative that it makes that journey at a faster pace than we have seen thus far.”

Belinda Pratten, senior policy officer at the NCVO, said she was disappointed that the DWP had misinterpreted the Compact code on funding and procurement and suggested that it should be revisited.

“It is important that people understand and use the Compact,” she said. “The Compact Advocacy Programme has been handling a major case with the DWP about Jobcentre Plus and its commissioning and procurement in general for more than a year. There is already agreement to review the prime contractor model, and we’re keen to see the results of this work by the DWP. This shows that we do not need to revisit the Compact, but we need to ensure that it is implemented.”

Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said in a statement alongside the report that the voluntary and private sectors had a vital role to play in the department’s goal of eliminating unemployment and eradicating child poverty.

“If we are to meet this ambitious goal, we need to take a fresh approach that utilises all the talent and skill available to us,” he said. “I believe our emerging findings will be supported across all sectors as being the right way to get people into work.”

An Acevo-commissioned independent review of the Pathways to Work procurement process, led by former civil servant Dame Mavis McDonald, concluded that although the commissioning exercise was fair, conflicting government priorities had led to voluntary sector organisations missing out (Third Sector Online, 23 November).

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