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Fears raised over large work programme contracts

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The Department for Work & Pensions should give councils more funding and control over the replacement work programme, the Local Government Association has urged.

Concerns have also been raised over plans to reduce the number of contract package areas for delivering the new work and health programme from 18 to 11 – four of which will cover London and another Greater Manchester. The rest are meant to cover the rest of England and Wales.

In its submission to the Treasury ahead of the autumn statement the LGA claimed such large contracts will fail to distinguish between the economic and social characteristics of local areas making it harder to offer tailored employment support to disadvantaged jobseekers and people with disabilities and health conditions.

The LGA believes thousands of people would be better supported into work if funding and responsibility for the new work and health programme was devolved to all areas.

LGC has previously reported how the work and health programme’s annual budget of £130m is a fraction of the £600m work programme budget.

A number of areas with devolution deals won commitments from government to co-commission the programme. However, senior figures in a number of devolved regions have been left frustrated at their limited ability to influence the way the new programme will operate. LGC has also reported how areas have been asked to contribute their own funds to the programme.

With only a fifth of the funding available the LGA fears too few jobseekers will be supported.

Mark Hawthorne (Con), chair of the LGA’s people and places board, said the LGA had put forward its own proposal for a “devolved, integrated employment support” programme and added: “Together with the Government, we consulted councils on how the WHP should work. The clear message was that to be successful it will need to integrate local services, job centres must be required to work with councils and local partners so the right people are supported, and the right locally based contractors are used.

“Councils are committed to ensure no-one is left behind, but they simply cannot afford to pick up the local costs of long-term unemployment.”

Cllr Hawthorne said the government would spend £10.5 billion this year on 20 different national employment and skills schemes and claimed councils would be able to provide “better more local solutions that can coordinate all local partners in a way which can most appropriately help those most in need of support”.

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