Work Choice - first evaluation of transition/commissioning

DWP has published the first evaluation of Work Choice, its specialist employment programme for disabled jobseekers.

The evaluation was conducted internally by DWP. This is the first of a series of evaluation reports to be conducted. The second phase, carried out by Inclusion, will look at the early implementation of the programme. A further report will evaluate Work Choice in its steady state.

The research looks at the transition from the legacy programmes to the Work Choice programme. It specifically explores:
* the process of transition
* the impact of transition on clients
* the early operation of Work Choice.

Its conclusions are as follows:

Transition
The research highlighted a number of transition issues which contributed to the effectiveness of the change of programme. This should be considered within the overall context of the transition of clients to Work Choice, which represented a substantial organisational change with up to 14,000 individuals (excluding Remploy) potentially changing programme. Therefore the transition of clients to Work Choice faced significant risks.

The overall impact of the transition upon clients was often felt to be minimal and some examples of good practice amongst legacy and new providers was reported which ensured a smooth handover. Nevertheless other clients were reported to be negatively effected by the transition and reports of added anxiety arose, leading to a small number of cases of clients not transferring into Work Choice. This was corroborated through research with Work Choice clients which also found that most clients were unaffected by the change in provision, although there were some cases of negative experience.

One of the key challenges reported was the poor transfer of information about clients from legacy providers to Work Choice providers. Many providers felt the lack of accurate and timely information created challenges with conducting initial meetings with some of their new clients. Moreover, a number of clients may have been without support during the handover from legacy programmes to Work Choice because of delays in Work Choice providers receiving information about these clients. Providers reported an ongoing problem around the transfer of insufficient information on the characteristics of referred clients in live running.

Another challenge highlighted in this research was the level of new referrals in the early days of the programme, which was generally reported to be much higher than respondents were expecting. The high levels of referrals at the time of fieldwork were felt to have a big impact upon providers’ ability to perform necessary early activities, such as meeting all their clients. Furthermore, there were some suggestions that DEAs were referring clients who were closer to the labour market than the policy intended, which may mean that those who are hardest to help are not being referred onto the programme. The DEA guidance regarding suitability for the programme has been amended since the fieldwork was conducted and should improve this situation. Nevertheless, this will require careful monitoring as the programme progresses.

The delay in prime providers signing contracts due to the 2010 general election was felt by many respondents to have had a large impact upon the ability of providers to prepare adequately for the implementation of Work Choice. The reduction in time from six months to three months made it difficult for providers to make structural changes to their organisation and carry out TUPE activities, as well as meet all their new clients and employers. This highlights the need to give providers sufficient time to prepare for and implement new programmes.

The early views of stakeholders reveal a mixed set of attitudes towards the new programme, with support for the ethos behind the programme clearly expressed by a number of respondents. Others however did not appear to fully appreciate the culture change that Work Choice aims to achieve. This helps to explain some of the operational practices observed which were not in line with the policy intent of the programme, such as DEAs case loading clients, or not referring the hardest to help clients. Furthermore, some respondents expressed concern about the impact that increased support would have upon clients and employers, and confusion as to what counted towards support. It is perhaps unsurprising that the operation of a new programme, with a very different culture, should take some time to fully bed in. Nevertheless, careful monitoring of how the programme operates will be necessary to assess whether clients benefit from the intended increased level of support compared to legacy programmes. Despite the mixed set of attitudes which were reported in the qualitative interviews with provider and DWP staff the mixed methods research with Work Choice clients sought clients’ perceptions of the support they receive through Work Choice. Generally clients were positive about this and most valued the support they receive to obtain or retain employment.

Nevertheless, some clients appeared not to be in receipt of much support. This may be because they didn’t classify the assistance that they receive, which may be subtle or provided by the employer, as formal ‘support’, or that they simply were unsure what was meant by the research questions. Or, that, having been on Workstep for a number of years, their support needs were no longer such that they need the support of Work Choice. Alternatively, respondents may have been waiting for their Work Choice support to commence because of challenges which arose from delays in transition activities. So the limited support they reported related to WORKSTEP support, or a gap in provision, rather than Work Choice support.

It will be necessary to monitor the client experience of Work Choice as the programme matures, especially as those respondents who reported limited or no support appeared to be happy with this amount. This means that the increased support which should be available through Work Choice is potentially a big change for some respondents. This is something which will be explored further in the wider Work Choice programme evaluation.

Commissioning
The transition to Work Choice also involved a transformation of the provider market. This was done in line with the principles of the Commissioning Strategy, whose purpose was to bring about more capable and high performing provider base, but it added to the complexity of moving 14,000 individuals onto new provision. This research presents progress against several keys aims of the Commissioning Strategy under the Work Choice programme. The desire to move to a top tier of prime contractors has been achieved, with 8 prime providers managing supply chains, although one provider won over half of the prime contracts. The structure of the market has changed. The overall number of providers has reduced significantly, with public sector providers exiting in significant numbers, whist third sector and private sector providers have increased their share of the market. Market entry was achieved, with half of Work Choice contracts going to providers who had not previously provided WORKSTEP or Work Preparation. There was limited evidence of legacy providers seeking to increase the scale of their delivery, and it remains the case that most providers only hold one contract. There is also some evidence that past performance and capability have played a part in the re-shaping of the provider market, highlighted by the fact that former WORKSTEP/Work Preparation providers who elected to leave the market were disproportionately likely to have received an unsatisfactory rating in their last Ofsted inspection than those providers who achieved a Work Choice contract.

Prime providers have invested in infrastructure to deliver the Work Choice programme such as IT systems, premises and staff recruitment and development, and both prime and sub contractors reported a strong ethos of partnership and cooperation within the programme. The extension of supply chains in live running may indicate a broadening of the services available to participants to reflect more closely individual needs and this should be monitored as supply chains evolve through the life of the programme. Those providers who remained in the market expressed support for some of the central commissioning principles such as the prime provider model, DWP’s steps to improve its own capability, and the move to outcome based funding, which was perceived to have sharpened providers’ focus on moving individuals through the programme towards unsupported employment. However, providers did not see Work Choice as an opportunity to make substantial financial returns.

There are also some clear areas for improvement identified through the research. The supply chain development process was labour intensive for subcontractors. The development of a single model Expression of Interest form for future contracting rounds would simplify this process for all concerned, as well as removing a potential barrier to small providers entering the delivery market. Roles and responsibilities within DWP are in need of further clarification – notably around the respective roles of Account Managers, Performance Managers and Third Party Provision Managers. This clarification would be welcomed by both providers and DWP staff.

http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/ih2011-2012/ihr6.pdf