Fair Start Scotland evaluation report 2: local area case studies - November 2019

Part of the Fair Start Scotland evaluation series. It presents detailed findings from the first wave of local area case studies in Alloa, Wick and Irvine and includes feedback from FSS service providers, participants, local delivery partners and other local people facing similar barriers to employment.

Executive Summary

The Scottish Government commissioned Rocket Science UK Ltd, in partnership with Blake Stevenson and the Institute of Employment Studies, to complete a three-year evaluation of Fair Start Scotland (FSS) delivery and outcomes.

This report is authored by the researchers and presents the findings from the in-depth exploration of FSS service delivery with providers, partners and participants in localities in three FSS contract areas (Alloa in Forth Valley, Irvine in South West, and Wick in Highlands and Islands).

Further research reports from year 1 of FSS delivery are also available on the Scottish Government website.

Overall, the research has revealed a strong positive response by participants in the FSS service. Participants value the voluntary, comprehensive and respectful nature of the service and commonly reported that FSS is tailored to the individual, and that key workers provide support suited to a participant’s individual skillset, interests and experience. This is also reflected in the feedback from employers, who feel that they have received a high-quality service and received strong and effective recruits.

In all three areas we met FSS staff who were dedicated, conscientious and energetic on behalf of participants. It was clear that they were committed to their roles and often went out of their way to ensure their participants received the support they needed and achieved the outcomes to which they aspired.

The quality of relationships between FSS providers and key local partners varies considerably. This can relate to a number of factors, such as the local reputation of FSS staff, the prior roles of staff and the reputation of previous services. Where there is a wide range of other existing services available in the area, FSS providers have found it harder to get across the distinctive nature of the service, and this may have contributed to reduced referrals. The relationship between FSS provider staff and JCP work coaches is particularly important. We came across an example where the relationship was established and successful, and another example where trust and an effective working relationship is slowly being built.

Our main findings include:

  • the broader context of services delivery in localities can make a significant impact on the appeal and effectiveness of FSS – in terms of both the extent to which it is part of a wider service offering and whether it is delivered from a venue which is appealing and accessible.
  • the range and scale of local job opportunities has an impact on the FSS service as it can be harder for individuals to find employment opportunities and with unemployment at a long-term low, those who are seeking work tend to present with a range of barriers to work.
  • it was generally felt by providers and JCP that the 16 hours a week expectation may be too high for many FSS participants. It was suggested that fair, quality and sustainable work to a participant may be less than this, but that outcome isn’t recognised in the current provider payment model. Both the ability for key workers to begin in-work support for those who have secured and are happy with employment at fewer than 16 hours, and the ability for providers to have the outcome recognised financially by the payment model, were the two most commonly cited frustrations with the existing model.
  • the configuration of the FSS providers’ staff teams display some interesting differences. While all have adopted the ‘key worker’ approach, a number of different models and roles are emerging – for example, in one location one member of staff had a combined role of community outreach and employer engagement, and all the staff had caseloads of participants. In another location, roles and responsibilities are more clearly separated among staff. It will be useful to explore the different team roles in depth in future local case studies.
  • providers continue to identify challenges around eligible and appropriate referrals. Essentially, this is about the professional judgement that a client will be able to gain and retain at least 16 hours a week employment within 12 months. Since the financial model is back loaded (ie providers can only create a viable service by getting clients into work), providers may be likely to err on the side of caution, while referrers may be more optimistic about what is possible and hopeful that the service will be beneficial for the individual regardless of the outcome.
  • the constraints on their ability to fund vocational training was identified as an issue by two of the providers. The FSS funding model – with 70% of funding tied to employment outcomes may be encouraging an emphasis on finding someone a job (and keeping them in a job), rather than helping individuals to invest in training and development in order to get them a better and high quality job which is part of the ‘Fair Work’ agenda.
  • provider staff felt that it was important to reflect the lives of participants by being flexible around clients disengaging and re-engaging with the service. Many clients led chaotic and challenging lives with elements of unpredictability and regular setbacks. This means that it may be better for them to pause their involvement with the service without the time taken out being removed from their 12-month timeframe. Staff felt that flexibility should also extend to the ability able to access FSS more than once and it should be possible to defer a referral to enable participants to come to FSS at a later date when their situation has settled down or they have dealt with a particular issue.
  • there was a consistent issue about travel time and costs. At one extreme, staff at Wick spent considerable amounts of time and expense travelling to visit clients across a huge geographical area, and funding those in neighbouring towns to travel to the service by bus. In Alloa there was an issue about participants affording the cost and practicality of travelling to jobs, in Irvine the large labour market offered by Glasgow was essentially inaccessible to participants due to travel costs, and travel to and from the north Ayrshire rural villages was a noticeable issue.
  • the need to be able to prepare some clients for FSS was widely accepted. Many clients who may in due course be able to benefit from FSS currently lead chaotic lives in dysfunctional families and other households. In one location we identified that a specific shorter service was being used as a preparation for FSS focusing on reducing the chaos individuals were facing and establishing routines. This service proved to be a solid stepping stone from which clients could be referred on to FSS.
  • the presence of European Structural Funds (ESF) in FSS and other local delivery limits the ability for FSS providers to coordinate and align local provision and use FSS as a way to support a cohesive local delivery environment. Providers noted concern that the match funding requirements to ESF become too difficult to track, manage and evidence the more that providers mix and match services and funding to provide tailored and personalised support for an individual.
  • providers appreciate the regional approach of the FSS contract areas. We found that providers were strategically taking a regional approach, but often a more localised approach to delivery. For example, in the contract area that includes Alloa, the three local authorities each run separately operationally. There may be value in certain operational aspects being considered regionally, particularly a regional approach to the job broker function to ensure that participants have access to a broader range of job options.

Recommendations for this FSS contract

The current administrative and monitoring processes appear to be burdensome and stressful for staff, with the system being felt to be clunky and with the consequences of errors being significant. We understand that these are being reviewed.

There are a number of issues about the payment model which providers feel not to reflect the needs of particpants with more chaotic lives in an increasingly uncertain job market. It would be timely to explore how the model can be developed to reflect more accurately the difference made by the service in this context. There may also be value in Scottish Government exploring and understanding the impact of ESF funding on coordinating services locally and providing further guidance to providers on increasing coordination within these limitations.

There is a wide variation in the quality of the relationship between JCP and FSS providers and it would be beneficial to explore the features of high-quality relationships and the lessons of this for both providers and JCP staff.

In areas where there is not a strong relationship between the FSS provider and Local Authorities in the area there may be a role for the Scottish Government to work with both parties and JCP to explore the issues and help to find a more effective way forward.

There isn’t always a consistent view between referrers and FSS providers as to the likelihood of a participant finding work within 12 months. We came across examples where this is the subject of a discussion between the provider and JCP staff and it is likely to be beneficial for referrers and FSS providers to reach agreement where possible, on whether FSS is suitable for participants prior to the referral.

In areas where there are a lot of competing employability services it would be worth mapping these in more detail to explore, how FSS fits in and to identify how FSS is able to offer a distinctive and complementary service.

The significance of health issues for many participants is clear and a range of different kinds of relationships have emerged to help clients with this area of need. It would be worth focusing in particular on this area in the second round of in-depth locality reviews.

Early considerations for future Scottish Government employability services service

Our work to date suggests that there are a number of areas of particular relevance to the design and procurement of future Scottish Government employability servicesservice:

  • The ability of a provider to draw on a range of different kinds of services makes it more likely both that clients will be better matched to the service that suits them best, and that the respective strengths of the services are fully drawn on.
  • Similarly, the colocation of a range of related services brings clear benefits in terms of creating an obvious place to go for potential participants and for the easy referral of clients between services.
  • In particular, it would be valuable for providers to be able to offer (or have ready access to) both pre- FSS support in terms of helping clients to get into a more stable situation before progressing to FSS, and a shorter sharper intervention to provide a taster for the commitment required by a longer term service.
  • It is extremely difficult to quickly establish the range of networks and relationships needed to make a success of a new national service. It therefore makes sense to ensure that provision is able to draw on the well-established relationships which Local Authorities have both in terms of their own services and with other relevant organisations and charities.
  • The funding model needs to be able to reflect both the unstable situations of some participants and the dynamic nature of the labour market in a way that is fairer to providers in terms of rewarding their work and the difference they are making to the lives of participants.
  • The three-hour engagement principle is, on the whole, supported by providers, and they have proved to be creative in using this both to maintain momentum and to provide a range of experiences which are valued by participants.
  • There is a consistent issue about the access available to vocational training courses. There is effective use of JCP and other resources in this area, but the funding is not sufficient to respond to the training needs of a number of clients.
  • As with all employability services, the experience, expertise, commitment and connections of staff are a key determinant of the quality and impact of the service. In particular, the difference made when the provider is able to draw on staff with strong local connections and relationships is striking. This suggest that there should be a stronger focus in the delivery process on ensuring that the service will be able to draw on such staff – and that the service as a whole has a focus on staff development and high-quality management.

As a corollary, the better the relationships with complementary local services and activities (notably volunteering opportunities), and the wider the range of available services and opportunities, the more likely it is that the provider can create personalised routes to and through work which meet the needs of individual participants. Where the service landscape is scanty there may be a need for supplementary funding to ensure that participants are able to receive a comprehensive experience.


Email: kirstie.corbett@gov.scot

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