Implications and recommendations
From this evaluation, several implications can be drawn out on how to improve Fair Start Scotland and similar employment programmes in the future. The evaluation reveals that, overall, Fair Start Scotland performed well. However, there are areas where some improvements could be made. The purpose of this chapter is to draw out what worked well in the design, reach, and delivery of this programme and where further improvements could be made.
Firstly, in terms of design, two elements stand out in Fair Start Scotland. The first is the way job outcomes are defined. As mentioned, the providers are paid based on how long participants last in a job. The categories are 13 weeks within a 16-week period, 26 weeks within a 30-week period, and 52 weeks within a 60-week period. The time periods in which participants are expected to achieve the job outcomes are very short compared to other programmes. This strict definition means that incentive payments were not always triggered for providers even when participants do achieve job outcomes because they did so outside the specified time period. This resulted in lower overall costs to the programme but could mean both that outcomes are being undercounted and that providers are not being compensated for all outcomes achieved. Future programmes could account for that and potentially introduce a more flexible definition of job outcomes.
The second design element that stands out in Fair Start Scotland is the way in which participants were divided into different payment groups according to specific characteristics (Core, Advanced, and Intense). While other employment programmes do distinguish between different referral groups, their definitions tend to be more straightforward. The complexity of Fair Start Scotland's groupings (provided in Table 1) meant that there may have been a discrepancy in the way providers interpreted the criteria and, as a result, where they placed different participants. This caused some inconsistencies across Lots and a lack of clarity in terms of whether variations in performance metrics (especially reach) were due to 'real' differences or to differences in providers' interpretation. This also meant that it is difficult to accurately tell who Fair Start Scotland benefited and if it did indeed capture those farther away from the labour market. In the future, clearer information and definitions may be helpful to provide consistency and allow for appropriate comparisons and benchmarking.
In terms of reach, Fair Start Scotland was able to help those further away from the labour market, but not as much as it set out to do. This is captured in the number of Advanced and Intense group participants compared to Core participants. Again, because of the design element, it is difficult to say to what extent this is an issue of reach as opposed to differences in providers' interpretation. Generally, however, even after reaching the service, people with disabilities and health conditions did not perform as well as other participants. They also had a less positive experience of the service. This is likely to be partly due to labour market conditions, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in the future, more can be done to ensure that the service is reaching out to and accommodating people who are furthest removed from the labour market and need the most help. This could be done, for example, by changing the incentive payment structure to providers to accommodate people who cannot work more than 16+ hours a week.
Finally, in terms of performance, Fair Start Scotland helped people achieve sustainable labour market outcomes. Once participants reach a job, they are more likely than other programme participants to keep that job. However, the jobs achieved are at the lower end of the quality and fair work spectrum. Again, this cannot be attributed entirely to Fair Start Scotland, especially given labour market conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since fairer work conditions and pay are priorities for the Scottish Government, future programmes could adjust programme design to incentivise these outcomes. One way to achieve this is by offering providers further payment incentives if participants achieve a full-time job, a permanent job, or a job that pays above the Real Living Wage.