I am very pleased to present this second Fair Start Scotland annual report, which highlights how the service has matured in line with our "test and learn" approach and in response to feedback from participants, providers and delivery partners.
I remain convinced that employment support services in Scotland should be voluntary, flexible and centred around the needs of the individual, with dignity and respect at the forefront of our approach. This report and the supporting evaluation provides strong evidence that these principles are now well embedded in Fair Start Scotland's delivery. It is also clear from discussions I have had with participants across Scotland, that they favour this more holistic, person-centred support.
Our performance analysis, the evaluation evidence and feedback from providers suggest that many of the early challenges identified in Year 1 have been resolved, from improved engagement between Service Providers, Jobcentre Plus and other local partner organisations, to increased flexibility in the delivery model itself.
It is also clear however, that challenges remain with respect to further relationship building, and better integration with other employability provision and delivery partners at a local level. I am confident that our continuing focus on working in partnership with local government and the third sector, through the delivery of No One Left Behind, will help us to realise our vision for locally integrated and flexible employability support that both delivers for individuals and provides value for money.
For most of Year 2 (April 2019 to March 2020), the Scottish labour market performed strongly, with a record low unemployment rate of 3.2% in early 2019. This report demonstrates how Fair Start Scotland provided essential support throughout this period to those further away from sustained employment. However, the report also acknowledges the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on service delivery, as the nationwide lockdown commenced in the final weeks of Year 2. In response, we moved quickly in late March 2020 to ensure continued support for participants, by introducing a more flexible delivery model and a financial package to sustain Service Providers' capacity.
Unfortunately, the impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt across Scotland. Unemployment is already increasing and is projected to rise further over the coming year. We know from previous recessions that those who already face disadvantages suffer most, and we have already started to see the impacts on participation in, and outcomes from the service.
Employability support will be more important than ever as we shape our collective economic and wellbeing response to the current public health crisis. As part of that response, I have extended access to Fair Start Scotland services for a further two years, allowing more people to start on the service up to March 2023. We will also continue to review and seek ways to improve the delivery model in response to the changing labour market and to any further uncertainty arising from EU Exit.
I remain committed to ensuring no one is left behind in Scotland's labour market. Our recovery will be an opportunity to do things differently, rebuilding our economy with wellbeing and fair work at its heart.
I am confident this tried and tested service will make an essential contribution to our economic recovery and continue to provide support for those who need it most.
Jamie Hepburn MSP
Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills