Volunteer centre withdraws from Work Programme because of restrictions on service delivery

Kirsty Palmer, chief executive of Volunteer Centre Kensington & Chelsea, says it fears the same approach will be taken in Ministry of Justice contracts

Kirsty Palmer
Kirsty Palmer

Volunteer Centre Kensington & Chelsea has pulled out of the Work Programme because it says it restricted the way the charity worked with its clients.

Giving evidence at a session in London of the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector, Kirsty Palmer, chief executive of Volunteer Centre Kensington & Chelsea in London, said her organisation had pulled out of the programme after being a subcontractor for 18 months.

The panel is a group of voluntary sector experts, chaired by the former Barnardo’s chief executive Sir Roger Singleton, that is funded by the Baring Foundation to produce reports on factors affecting charities’ independence.

Palmer said the volunteer centre had enjoyed a good working relationship with its prime contractor and the programme had worked reasonably well financially. But she said the centre had recently pulled out of the programme because its rules restricted the way it delivered services to its clients.

"We thought that the best way to influence the service was to be inside it, to speak with the voice of evidence back to the primary contractor and say ‘This works and this is great, but this doesn’t and this is our suggestion’," said Palmer. "But our experience was that they simply didn’t want to listen."

Palmer told panel members that she was concerned that the same approach would be taken for contracts for offender rehabilitation work under the Ministry of Justice’s reforms of the probation service, that will give charities the opportunity to bid for payment-by-results contracts to help reduce reoffending.

"We are worried that some of the same rhetoric that was used during the Work Programme commissioning process is now coming out of the rehabilitation resolution commission process," said Palmer.

"The rhetoric at the beginning of the Work Programme was that it would be a great opportunity for local providers, but the reality of our experience has not been that. Our concern is the same rhetoric is now appearing from the MoJ, and we fear for other small organisations."

Palmer said Volunteer Centre Kensington & Chelsea was so worried about how the rehabilitation service contracts would work that it would not be applying for any government funding for the rehabilitation work it already did with HM Prison Brixton.

Speaking later at the same event, Tom Elkins, manager of Compact Voice, which represents the voluntary sector on matters related to the Compact, said he thought the MoJ had consulted effectively on the rehabilitation contracts and that the MoJ’s the engagement programme was "very comprehensive". 

He said he recognised concerns that the rehabilitation programme would mirror the Work Programme, but argued that the department’s recent commitment to the Compact – which sets out how public and voluntary sector organisations should treat each other – showed that it was listening to the sector.

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