The government's flagship welfare-to-work initiative is "not yet working and there are some fundamental flaws in it", according to a man who represents more than two thirds of the contractors providing the scheme's employment support services.
Graham Hoyle, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), a trade association for vocational learning and employment providers in Britain, said that the Work Programme is conceptually good, but was failing in its current guise.
Hoyle also said there needs to be clarity on the objectives of the Work Programme and other employment support work overseen by the government.
"What the purpose of this or any other programme? I think there needs to be absolute clarity on this. If the assessment is simply to save money … [it] is going to bear down on the success of the programme," Hoyle said at a debate held by think tank Policy Exchange, adding that in the current economic climate this is a "totally understandable" objective.
The Work Programme helped just 3.6% of its participants off benefits and into work during its first 14 months. The Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) target was 5.5%. Contractors from the private and third sectors that provide Work Programme services are paid by results.
Only those who have been unemployed for a year or more can qualify for the Work Programme. Hoyle said this must be revised to include those who have been out of work for less than a year.
He also said that many of AELP's 600 members face a bureaucratic nightmare in dealing with the three independent departments that work on the same areas of education, skills and employment.
"We have got to get the three big spending departments in this area coming behind a single policy and a single strategy," said Hoyle of the Department for Education (DfE), the DWP, and Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
"I'm telling you now, my members work to all three. They have different systems, different rules, different priorities, but we see it as the same agenda.
"I think something that actually helps those three departments to come to a much clearer view about a common objective will help those processes."
Hoyle, who has years of experience as the head of a job centre, said that employment support services must keep in mind what employers want.
"If we don't keep an eye on employer requirements, whether it's in the private or public sector, then we are going to limit the extent of help we can give," he said.
At the same debate, Kate Green, Labour's shadow minister for equalities, warned that the quality of the jobs available in the labour market will hinder welfare-to-work efforts.
"When you look at the kind of jobs people are getting in the labour market today, so often they are short-term, unsustainable, poorly paid, poor conditions," she said.
"In and out and in and out of work. We know that's very, very bad for in work poverty. It's very, very bad for people's financial stability. And, of course, there's no real possibility of career progression when your work pattern looks like that."
Green added that the government must tackle "the underlying problem which is that the labour market is structured in a way that is quite inimical to people with high barriers to employment actually progressing and doing well."