Disappointing results for Work Programme Merlin standards for sub-contracting.

What do you think:

  • Could Work Programme code of conduct ever improve powerful prime contractors treatment of small back-to-work providers?
  • Should Merlin standard be judged by Work Programme performance rather than provider satisfaction?
  • Are the benefits of partnership working ever achievable within contractual relationships?

The Merlin code of conduct aimed to improve contracting, supply chain management and fair treatment between Work Programme prime contractors and their other employment support sub-contractors – but did it work over the last three years?  The recent review is somewhat equivocal.

The survey sent to over 600 individuals throughout the contracting chain and stakeholders only gained just over 100 responses (19%).

The voluntary sector respondents were rather dubious about the development of an excellent supply chain and fair treatment with over half saying that it had not made any difference to the behaviour of prime contractors. Accredited prime contractors, not surprisingly, were more positive on both scores but less than half (45%) thought the code was worth the cost and effort.

So the jury is out on whether the standard has achieved its aims – and three years may be too soon to judge.  But certainly there is lots of room for improvement for the remainder of the Work Programme and any subsequent use in either national or more local programmes.

Perhaps the acid test is whether the aims and effectiveness of the merlin standard actually made any difference to the performance of the Work Programme – did the accredited prime contractors and more satisfied sub-contractors produce better results for the people they were supporting back to work – or did the standard make little difference?

Having been involved in the EU PARES initiative (all about partnerships in employment support), a key piece of learning was that partnerships with parity of influence on delivery systems were most desirable – but clearly this is more difficult to achieve when money and contractual relationships are involved.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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