Does small social enterprise have a chance in the Work Programme?

The Government launched its much-talked-about Work Programme today - "probably the biggest payment-by-results scheme in the world" according to Employment Minister Chris Grayling - and one that aims to help 2.4 million unemployed people back into work over the next five years.

The big idea is for what's been described as a giant dating agency, where people who are out of work will be matched to suitable employers. The focus, we're told, is on specialist provision and sustainable employment.

The money has already been allocated to the tier 1 and 2 contractors who hold the risk if they are unable to match the required number of candidates to jobs to make ends meet. See today's Telegraph article and Thursday's Guardian piece, which does a good job of explaining payment by results.

And this is where it gets interesting. It is up to these big players to decide how best to achieve the results that will win the more lucrative payments, such as more than £13,000 for getting an ex-incapacity benefit claimant back to work.

Some of them will, no doubt, try to build success with these clients in-house or with a small range of preferred providers who they've worked with before. How much of it filters down to the small specialists, like Poached Creative, will remain to be seen.

Where are the jobs?

Results would be all very well if there were jobs enough for everyone. But the two main areas where Poached Creative works - Hackney and Haringey - have been name checked by the Work Foundation in the top 10 areas of the UK where it is likely to be difficult for the Work Programme to be delivered profitably.

Hackney has the second-highest ratio of out of work residents to job vacancies in the UK, an unemployment rate of 19.6 per cent and one of the highest rates in the country of entrenched long-term unemployment. According to analysis published on Touchstone Blog it is also one of the areas that has been hardest hit in the recent round of government spending cuts. Even if the Work Programme manages to reach and help these people, it could be that the jobs simply aren't there.

Taking a chance?

The creative sector is one of Hackney's growth areas and, as a specialist service helping long-term unemployed people to get jobs in media and the creative industries, organisations like Poached ought to be the perfect candidates for Work Programme subcontracts.

But Rob Greenland at The Social Business is sceptical.

"There is potential for difficulty when a big company (the Prime Provider) is tasked with collaborating with lots of smaller providers. Government would have us believe that they’ll all play happy families, nurturing the young’uns and small’uns so that together they can share the proceeds and make the contract a success. I’m afraid I just don’t believe that it will turn out like that in a lot of cases."

It's worth reading his full blog.

I'll be happy to be proved wrong, but my fear is that we're too small, too untried and, frankly, too innovative to prove an attractive partner for providers trying to make ends meet in a difficult economy.

Find out about Poached Creative's training and work experience and read the concerns about how the Work Programme might affect people claiming benefits from In My Shoes.

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