Speakers at a welfare-to-work conference yesterday were accused of "squabbling like children" over the merits of their own sectors.
Mike Harvey, business development director of the third sector bidding consortium 3SC, made the comments in the question-and-answer session after speeches by senior figures from the voluntary, public and private sectors in a session on "tailoring welfare-to-work services to meet the needs of the individual" at the Employment Related Services Association’s annual conference in London.
Harvey said the speakers appeared to have lost sight of the fact that their organisations existed to serve customers and he was sick of hearing sectors argue over who should be paid to do this.
Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, which represents charity leaders, and fellow panel member David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, who both made presentations during the session, denied that the needs of customers had been forgotten.
Harvey responded by saying they sounded "like a bunch of kids squabbling in the playground".
At this point Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of the ERSA and chair of the debate, interjected by saying any disagreements should be continued over lunch.
Bubb said in his speech that the government’s Work Programme would fail if it did not make sufficient use of the third sector’s ability to help the hardest-to-reach groups.
He criticised the government for imposing confidentiality clauses on programme providers, forbidding them from publishing data about how well their schemes were doing.
"I’m concerned that the government has been so untransparent," said Bubb. "You only know if a programme is working on the basis of evidence, so the government needs to be transparent."
He said the Merlin Standard code of conduct for supply chain partners had to be enforced to promote fair play.
But he warned charities that had entered into ill-advised deals with prime contractors that Merlin would not help them. "If you have signed up to a crap contract, there’s not much you can do about it," said Bubb.
Andrew Dutton, group chief executive of A4e, a prime contractor for the programme, said it was too early to publish meaningful data yet.
Dutton said 50 per cent of its subcontractors were from the voluntary sector. He admitted the company "had not got it right all the time" in its dealings with subcontractors, but said it was committed to "strong and meaningful collaboration".
Orr urged companies not to regard charity subcontractors merely as service providers but also as organisations with specialist knowledge of hard-to-reach groups that should be used in the design of contracts.