With the hullabaloo of the General Election now behind them, the new Government is now getting down to business. The confirmation of a Ministerial remit on Welfare Reform for Lord Freud has not been a great surprise, but how the political chemistry at DWP evolves between Freud, Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling is perhaps more intriguing. The 36 page Coalition Programme published today shows that the Conservative’s Work Programme remains as the focus of welfare reform. Building on the commitments of the earlier Coalition Agreement, it also includes a new self employment programme for the unemployed (Work for Yourself), pre-employment support through new Service Academies, and locally driven Work Clubs. There is also promise in terms of the creation of more apprenticeships, internships, work pairings, college and workplace training places, and the abolition of “further education quangos”, casting a shadow over the recently formed SFA. But when will it all happen? DWP have already stated that their immediate priority is to bring certainty in respect of current programmes due to end this year. This is likely to include a contingency strategy for Employment Zones and New Deal Prime Contracts due to end in September, in the event that any new welfare to work programme is not in a position to replace them at that point. Senior DWP officials are expected to be imminently briefing the new Ministerial team on all ongoing procurement exercises, and there will be inevitable expectation for a level of early clarity on what impact the Coalition Programme will have in reality. One of the key challenges the new Government faces will be in how quickly it can change Treasury rules to allow for money spent on benefit payments to be used instead to pay for welfare to work programmes (the DEL AME switch principle). The 2008 “Raising Expectations” White Paper provided the grounding to test DEL AME in Invest to Save pathfinder areas, but an immediate national roll out may warrant greater Treasury consensus. The challenge is even greater against the context of achieving a £6bn reduction in public spending. Even if the Treasury gives DWP the green light, they still need to reconcile how any new single national funding model may work in practice, and to be confident of its commercial appeal to the provider community. June looks set to be a critical month. The Emergency Budget is already set to be unveiled by George Osborne on 22nd June, when DWP will know exactly how much cash it has in its kitty. Before that, DWP’s Provision Forum convenes on 2nd June and a week later, on the 9th June, DWP is due to hold its annual Suppliers Conference. These will be the first post-election occasions when DWP officials and providers will meet face to face in the same room, and where the sharing of some of that promised clarity will be expected. What happens next is still unclear. FND Phase 1 providers are still meeting individually with DWP to review base-line referral projections as JSA numbers continue to be revised, and the PEP pilot competition continues seemingly intact for now, but for how long?