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Work Programme

Volume 527: debated on Wednesday 4 May 2011

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the awarding of contracts for the Work programme in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. (53554)

9. What weighting was given to the involvement of voluntary sector organisations in the assessment process of tenders of prime contractors for the Work programme in Scotland. (53564)

Over the past year I have had numerous discussions with ministerial colleagues on the development of the Work programme. The Government are encouraging prime contractors to engage voluntary and private sector organisations in the delivery of the programme.

Does the Secretary of State share my concern that the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), may have broken the ministerial code of conduct in awarding the contracts to some companies? Will the Secretary of State make a statement on the matter, and what is he going to do to protect the companies that missed out on the awards that were given out?

The hon. Gentleman is making a very serious allegation, which my right hon. Friend absolutely refutes. As with any other instance in which people think something inappropriate is happening, there are appropriate channels through which it can be pursued. If there is some evidence on that or any other matter, those channels should be followed.

I declare an interest as a non-remunerated director of the charity Turning Point Scotland.

There has been great unease in Scotland about the tendering process for the Work programme contracts. The tender document clearly outlined the expectation that at least 30% of a prime contractor’s subcontracts should be delivered by voluntary sector providers, and it stated:

“This will be a key factor in the tender assessment process.”

Yet the successful bids commit to a mere 8% and 6% voluntary sector delivery respectively. I hope that the Secretary of State shares my concern, and my question to him is simple: what went wrong?

I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s work in the voluntary sector, and I believe that it has a very important role to play not just in getting people back to work but in many aspects of Scottish life. Let us remember that the Work programme is a step change in the provision of support for people to get back into work. We are determined to ensure that we tackle all the problems that have afflicted different parts of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

The invitation to tender document was absolutely explicit about the criteria, and they were the ones against which bids were measured. As far as the future involvement of the voluntary sector is concerned, the two preferred bidders have indicated that they fully intend to engage with the sector.

I call Sheila Gilmore, whose question has been grouped with Questions 1 and 9. She is not here.

Does the Secretary of State agree that to secure economic recovery, it is important to listen to the views of the job creators so that we minimise the number of people needing support from the Department for Work and Pensions in the first place?

Of course it is important that as we recover from the terrible economic situation that we inherited, we focus on creating new jobs. That is why we set out in the Budget continued plans to ensure that we keep interest rates low, reduce corporation tax and reduce the burden of national insurance, compared with the previous Government’s plans. We will continue with those measures, to ensure that we rebalance the economy and create more private sector jobs in Scotland and elsewhere.

But does the Secretary of State acknowledge the significance of the fact that 200 leading Scottish job creators have today signed a public statement saying that the best approach for the future is to re-elect the Scottish National party Scottish Government, and Alex Salmond as First Minister?

Funnily enough, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point. The best approach to the next Scottish Government is to ensure that we have Liberal Democrats at the heart of it, so that we can reinforce the central part that this Government are playing in rebalancing the economy of the UK as a whole. Our agenda for growth is absolutely essential to our recovery from the situation that we inherited.

I note that the Secretary of State, in his answer to my written question yesterday, stated that at his recent meeting with Scottish voluntary sector organisations, to which he dragged along the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), he had encouraged the successful bidders to

“engage effectively with the voluntary sector”.—[Official Report, 3 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 662W.]

Will he confirm what he expects that will actually achieve? Can he guarantee that voluntary sector involvement will be more in line with the UK average for the contracts tendered in the Work programme, or is the voluntary sector in Scotland only going to get the crumbs from the table?

May I first say that I was very pleased to invite my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to the employment gathering in Edinburgh, which was very well attended by representatives of the different stakeholders and by a representative of the Scottish Government? As we made clear at the time, it is our intention to ensure that the voluntary sector is as involved as possible. The two preferred bidders, Ingeus and Working Links, have made it clear that they are going to discuss the role of the voluntary sector in their supply chains. That discussion is ongoing and not yet resolved. Beyond that, there are other streams of work coming out of the Department for Work and Pensions for which the voluntary sector and others will be able to bid.

I note that the Secretary of State is still unable to provide us with a figure. Doubt will remain in the voluntary sector, which has suffered a massive drop in income as a result of the Work programme, which offers fewer places than were offered under previous Government-operated schemes. Does he agree that the experience and knowledge of the voluntary sector of the future jobs fund is testament to its strength? Does he agree that Scotland needs a new future jobs fund, so that we can offer places for the thousands of people who are coming out of school and college with nowhere to go?

I am happy to acknowledge that under the previous Government, of whom the hon. Lady was a member, youth unemployment rose consistently through periods of growth as well as during the recession. I accept that we have a major challenge, which is why I will bring together different employment sector representatives in Irvine in a couple of weeks’ time.

It is important for all of us that we get the voluntary sector engaged. The future jobs fund was a very costly scheme, and its results do not bear out the hon. Lady’s assertions. It is not the case that it led to sustainable jobs—but the new Work programme will do exactly that.