I am delighted to present our annual report outlining the first year of delivery of Fair Start Scotland, our first fully devolved employability support service in Scotland.
The report highlights how the service has been making a difference to employers, communities, but most importantly to people accessing the support that Fair Start Scotland offers.
I am very clear about our ambitions for employability support in Scotland. I want our employability services to be voluntary, flexible and responsive to the individual needs of people. Crucially, I want dignity and respect to be at the very heart of our approach. This report shows strong evidence is emerging that this approach is working and beginning to embed itself in how Fair Start Scotland is being delivered.
Through the discussions I’ve had with participants from across Scotland, I have seen how much people value the support they receive. I am delighted to see that feedback now reflected in this report. From the very outset of taking on employability powers we have heard, through consultation and discussions with people and organisations, that many people who used previous UK employability services did so under fear of the threat of benefit sanctions. This report and the supporting evaluation outline that participants predominantly prefer Fair Start Scotland to previous employability services. Our philosophy is to help people through their individual journeys through voluntary engagement rather than compulsion. That approach is being justified by the positive experiences participants are having. The phrase I hear time and time again when speaking to participants is that people feel that the service they are receiving looks and feels different.
Fair Start Scotland is an essential part of our approach towards sustaining economic growth. Whilst the Scottish labour market is currently performing relatively strongly, it continues to be critical that those who need a little more help can access support to help them fulfil their potential. As such, it is clear that by helping people into work Fair Start Scotland plays a significant role in tackling the poverty and inequality which continue to blight some of our communities. The benefit to people’s health and wellbeing from being helped into employment is also clear to see. Fair Start Scotland is also an important lever in taking forward our ambitions for Fair Work and it is encouraging to see the role employers are playing in creating the conditions for individuals to flourish in the workplace.
So, whilst good progress had been made in establishing a distinctive Scottish approach to employability services, there is still much for us to do. It is clear from the report that the challenges people face are often complex and significant. Challenges that require long-term thinking to deliver solutions to long-standing issues. With a commitment to continuous improvement, I am determined we will face those challenges head on. There are specific aspects of Fair Start Scotland, such as the delivery of Individual Placement and Support and Supported Employment that we will review to see how we can better deliver specialist support for those who need it most.
Looking forward, there are significant challenges for our economy – particularly around the impact of Brexit. Our priority in addressing these challenges remains ensuring that people continue to get the support they need. Fair Start Scotland therefore remains an essential lever in our ambition to ensure that everyone in Scotland is able to reach their full potential.
In the longer term, we are working to better align employability services across national and local levels as set out in No One Left Behind. Already, there are examples of how local relationships are being formed to better cater to the needs of participants.
If we are to deliver our vision for employability services it is vital that we continue to work closely together with all partners.
Jamie Hepburn MSP
Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills