Cashflow and welfare-to-work provision

Cashflow is the amount of money being received and spent by a business in a period of time

As the recent failures of Instant Muscle and Carter & Carter attest, many companies in the welfare-to-work industry have been facing problems in recent times. Some smaller providers have already fallen by the wayside (e.g. Olympian) or been absorbed into larger ones (Fern, Maatwerk) in recent years. The Jobcentre accredited provider list in 2002 numbered just over 1,000 organisations. Today it's 500, and that looks set to shrink substantially with the advent of Prime Contracting in both mainstream and ESF provision. While some of these providers will find niches subcontracting to the Primes, consolidation is a key trend in the coming years.

One of the factors influencing this is simply the increasing cost and financial risk of delivering welfare-to-work provision. Changes in the payment structure will substantially change delivery cashflow compared to previous New Deal delivery.

To demonstrate the impact of the changes, we've put together a financial model for flexible New Deal. It's attached as an Excel spreadsheet at the bottom of this article. If you're thinking of bidding for Prime Contractor something far more complex will be required, but it provides a useful illustration of some key points:

  • It will take lots of cash to set up provision - In the model, a £10m provision needs £2.5m in capital.
  • You won't see the cash back for a few years - The model shows a break even point of almost 2 years, but a lower profit margin could extend this by another year or more.
  • Falling short on job outcomes will cause a double hit - If you only get 90% of the job starts, then you can only expect 90% of the sustained job outcomes.
  • All the cells in blue in the spreadsheet can be edited so you can see the impact of different figures, and of under- or over-performance against target. The base profit margin can't be changed yet, but we might put that in later. Play around with the 'actual' outcome figures and you'll soon see what financial risk translates to.

Given the state of lending at the moment, it's conceivable that many companies will have difficulty in raising the finance needed to set up provisions of this size. The size of each contract means that medium-size providers may only be able to take on a single area, potentially betting the entire company on a single delivery.

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Comments

A site user has e-mailed to say that the 'jobs fee' that makes up 50% of payment in the model will be paid for 13 week sustainment. The New Deal info I was working on didn't make clear that this would be the case, so I assumed payment on job start. I'll update the spreadsheet to reflect this sometime this week. The main changes will be:

  • Increase in delivery risk, as 13 week sustainment is less controllable than initial job entry
  • 13 week increase in the cash operating cycle (i.e. the length of time to get money back)
  • 13 week increase in the break-even point
  • Increase in maximum debt equivalent to 13 weeks of operation

I still haven't updated the model. Will get it done soon, and put in an option to change the annual contract value as well.

Have you done the up dated spreadsheet and where can I find it.

I didn't update this in the end. Updating it now would need a fairly close examination of the final payments structure proposed by the DWP - my understanding is that they put in an up-front payment of a percentage of contract value to cover setup costs and make it more accessible. Additionally, it seems possible that the DWP will change things further by introducing some kind of incentive to work with harder-to-help customers, as suggested by the SMF report.