3SC wishes to highlight a number of inaccuracies within Polly Toynbee’s most recent Comment is Free article in the Guardian (first published Thursday 19 July).
1 - The title of the piece was “Anna's charity was bid candy for the Work Programme. Now it's bankrupt”.
The organisation Polly refers to, Eco-Actif Services, is not a Charity, but a Community Interest Company - a form of social enterprise business. There are fundamental distinctions between the two forms of organisation including the restrictions placed upon them with regard to their activities and purposes, and the financial regulations under which they must operate. Charities must operate for purely charitable purposes, while Community Interest Companies, although restricted under Asset Lock rules, can issue Dividends to shareholders.
More significant is the statement that Eco-Actif was used as “bid candy” for the Work Programme. We would like to point out that Eco-Actif were not named in A4E’s Work Programme tender submission, nor were they included in the list of organisations proposed to deliver specific elements of the service which accompanied the main tender submission. Both the tender document and subcontractor list are within the public domain and can be found through Contracts Finder.
2 – The article refers to the level of management fee taken by A4e “But nobody knows how much A4e creams off the top. Eco-Actif thinks it may be 50%; 3SC (which only takes 12% for itself) reckons A4e might take 30% – but it's a commercial secret.”
At no point did 3SC speculate on the level of management fee of A4e. We would however point out that this information is in fact in the public domain. During evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on “The Introduction of the Work Programme” it was disclosed that A4e takes a management fee of 12.5% (for end to end partners) and 15% (for specialist partners).
3 – The article states “We were a small charity signing a contract with a giant A4e and their lawyers.”
We would again highlight that Eco-Actif is not a charity. Additionally, and more fundamentally, Eco-Actif has never signed a contract with A4e. Eco-Actif has a contract with 3SC. 3SC has a contract with A4e. There is no direct contractual relationship between Eco-Actif and A4e.
In summation, 3SC works hard to ensure that our customers are supported, and should continue to be supported, to enter employment. As such, we have been a vocal proponent of potential improvements to Work Programme and are actively involved in groups discussing the impact of prime and subcontractors, particularly those which are third sector organisations. On Friday 13 July, 3SC released a statement on our website which states: ‘3SC takes its role as contract manager and consortia lead seriously, and recognises the responsibilities such a role places on our organisation. From the outset of implementation and throughout delivery of the Work Programme we have worked extensively to support and develop Eco-Actif’s delivery of the Work Programme contract to try to ensure its success and financial viability…At this stage, 3SC’s primary concern is to ensure continuity of service to those Work Programme customers who were previously being supported by Eco-Actif. Ensuring both existing and new customers of the Work Programme receive the highest quality support available to maximise their potential to secure sustainable employment, has, and will continue to be, our main focus.’
While we recognise the intention of Polly Toynbee to raise awareness of some of the issues and concerns regarding the Work Programme and the challenges organisations operating under these contracts face, we are disappointed that she chose to do so in such an inaccurate and misleading manner. At a time which is difficult both for organisations delivering the Work Programme and the customers they are trying to support through it, the need for accurate and robust scrutiny and legitimate challenge has never been greater. Unfortunately sensationalist articles do nothing to advance the debate and discussion around the Work Programme.