Work Programme: Charity subcontractors feel vulnerable

Charities involved in the Work Programme are not being adequately shielded from financial risk, according to a survey of over 100 voluntary sector sub-contractors released by NCVO.

Members of the NCVO special interest group for Work Programme sub-contractors are voicing concerns that the welfare-to-work initiative in its current form could threaten the sustainability of many voluntary sector providers. Seventy-nine per cent of respondents said that their prime contractor (the organisation appointed to lead on delivering the service contracts) was not adequately shielding them from risk (58 per cent answered 'not at all', and 21 per cent 'only to a small extent'). The group, which is open to all voluntary organisations who act as sub-contractors in the Work Programme, is meeting Employment Minister Chris Grayling to air their concerns and suggest steps to ensure that the sector is involved fully and fairly within the initiative. The survey also highlights a lack of faith in the Merlin Standard, a code of conduct for ensuring that sub-contractors are treated fairly by their prime contractor partners. Seventy-one per cent said that they did not think the Standard is adequately regulating prime contractor behaviour (39 per cent answered ‘not at all’, 32 per cent ‘not really’). Many subcontractors have also fed back that they are not satisfied with the level of Work Programme referrals they have received from their prime contractor. Fifty-eight per cent of Tier 1 Providers and 72 per cent of Tier 2 Providers said they were not at all satisfied with the current level of referrals. Sir Stuart Etherington, NCVO Chief Executive, said: "The prime contractor model is supposed to safeguard small providers from financial risk, but these findings suggest it is currently falling far short of expectations. Voluntary organisations have real value and expertise to offer, so it is crucial to ensure that the sector is involved fully and fairly in the Work Programme. Government must take these concerns on board and ensure that no bad practice is allowed to slip through the net." In an interview with Third Sector, Nick Hurd, Minister for Civil Society, said the government would help charities that were delivering the government’s welfare-to-work scheme if they could prove they had been treated unreasonably by prime contractors delivering the programme. But he said there was little the government could do to help charities that were struggling with the terms of contracts they had signed up to. Source: NCVO