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Work Programme

Volume 529: debated on Monday 13 June 2011

I am pleased to tell the House that as of today, all bar four of the contract package areas for the Work programme are fully operational; that many thousands of claimants have already been referred to the programme; and that the first two job outcomes have been achieved in one contract package area, where the provider was particularly quick off the ground.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the providers that are participating in the Work programme? Does he agree that by involving that diverse range of providers, we can tackle the culture of welfare dependency and worklessness that grew under Labour, and ensure that work pays?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. One encouraging thing about the Work programme is the vast diversity of organisations taking part—from big international organisations to small businesses; and from some of our bigger more prestigious charities, such as the Prince’s Trust, down to individual charities—even a walled garden project is involved in Yorkshire—and many of our local colleges. Together, they can make a huge difference in what is a revolutionary approach to the problem of long-term unemployment in this country.

The Minister will remember an exchange of correspondence that he had with the Select Committee about TUPE cover. Now that the Work programme has gone live, the confusion over which posts will enjoy TUPE protection has continued. Of two contractors in the same area, one says that TUPE does apply and the other says that it does not—in some cases, to the same workers in some of the subcontracting companies. I urge the Minister to clarify this issue and ensure that his Department sets out clear advice about which positions have TUPE protection and the rules regarding people working in the Work programme.

The hon. Lady needs to remember that in many cases the programmes that we are replacing are very different to the Work programme. Pathways to work, for example, was simply six work-focused interviews. There will be cases in which TUPE does not apply. We have been very clear in saying to the providers that it is a matter between the providers themselves, the individuals and the former employers to resolve when and where it applies. It is not for the Department to offer legal advice to providers.

I welcome the speed with which the Work programme’s contracts have been put together, but some small voluntary organisations in my constituency who took an interest in it were not successful. Will the Minister reassure them that there will continue to be opportunities for them to play a role in getting people back into work more informally?

I can indeed. First, there will be further opportunities to contract to provide support for the Department. In addition, we do not believe that the supply chains to the Work programme providers are fixed in stone in perpetuity. The whole nature of the Work programme makes it desirable for the prime contractors to look for the best in the business at getting people into work. If any organisation is excellent, I am sure that it will find its way into the programme, even if it has not done so yet.