There was an interesting item in Third Sector Online yesterday. It referred to new research by the Third Sector Research Centre which claims that the prime contractors for the government’s Work programme are “creaming and parking” — taking the ‘best’ (the easiest to help) clients and “parking” the hardest to help with third sector providers further down the supply chain.
I have some sympathy with this view and there is no doubt that social enterprise and third sector sub-contractors are being exploited.
However, there is another view. During the development of Birmingham’s BIG Lottery ‘Talent Match’ bid, one of the key roles identified by third sector providers was precisely that of helping the ‘hardest to help’ — young people who are most disadvantaged and who are furthest (in every sense) from the labour market. Arguably, therefore, if the sector’s strengths are those it claims — the ability, methods, approaches, partnerships and specialist skills to deliver employment opportunities for the hardest-to-help — then it should be the preferred route for these clients. Why have specialist third sector providers otherwise? The problem is not with the concept of specialist additional support for those who need it — the problem is in getting paid for it.
In those areas fortunate to be able to bid for Talent Match money, successful bidders will have the extra resources to help them plug this gap. But in non-Talent Match localities there is currently no incentive for primes to focus on achieving the very best outcomes possible for the unemployed — not when the surest route (referral down the supply chain to specialists) merely cuts into their profit margins.
The sector needs to get its arguments on this straight, however. Surely, the point is not to compete on equal terms with the primes; the point is to do whatever is necessary in order to deliver better outcomes. And this surely means lobbying for ‘reform’ of the WP, so that cash follows client and there is an incentive for primes to either get better at the in-house services they provide or pay out from their fees to other providers who can get the job done.
The market in work Programme provision is iniquitous as it presently operates and is to the detriment of the very people it has been set up to help — and this is scandalous.