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.

FSS in Irvine

This chapter outlines the key features of FSS in Irvine. This chapter covers:

  • A description of Irvine, including the socio-economic context and labour market
  • Analysis of the FSS management and performance data for Irvine
  • A description of the delivery of FSS in Irvine
  • Key lessons we can draw from this case study area.

Area profile

This section provides information about labour market patterns and socioeconomic trends in Irvine and North Ayrshire more broadly, focusing on levels of deprivation, unemployment, and skills and education. It also provides descriptions of local-level efforts to increase employability and to revitalise the local economy, as well as common barriers to employment within the local area. North Ayrshire has a population of 135,300.[54]

There are high levels of deprivation and associated health problems
The 2015 SIMD indicated that 51 out of 186 data zones in North Ayrshire are in the 15% most deprived in Scotland, with the highest portion of data zones (19) located in Irvine.[55] In 2017, 62% of households earned less than £30,000.[56] 29.3% of children in North Ayrshire are living in poverty.[57]

In 2017, average male life expectancy in Irvine was 72.2 years.[58] This is lower than the North Ayrshire average of 76.5 years and the Scottish average of 76.6 years for males and 80.8 years for females. North Ayrshire, in 2018, had the highest avoidable death rate in Scotland (at a rate of 373 per 100,000 people).[59] Social deprivation with access to alcohol, tobacco and fast food has been noted as a factor of this high rate.

Figure 5: A map of Irvine, colour coded to show the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation deciles. The western and northern areas of the city are in the most deprived decile [Source: Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2016: Irvine]

Figure 5: A map of Irvine, colour coded to show the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation deciles. The western and northern areas of the city are in the most deprived decile [Source: Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2016: Irvine]

In 2017, had a working population (aged 16-64) of 83,200 (61.3% of the overall population).[60] There were 40,000 employee jobs in the area.[61] 65% of these jobs were full-time, while 35% were part-time.[62] The female employment rate in North Ayrshire is 65.8% compared to 70.3% in Scotland, while male employment rate is 66.8% compared to 65.9% in Scotland.[63] There is a low job density of 0.58 jobs per person, compared to 0.81 in Scotland and 0.86 in Great Britain.

The area has higher unemployment rates than Scotland more generally: 5.7% in North Ayrshire compared to 4.3% in Scotland and 4.2% in Great Britain overall.[64] More males (5.7%) are unemployed than females. However, the sample size for unemployed females is too small for reliable estimates. Almost a quarter (24.4%) of households in North Ayrshire were workless in 2017.[65] Unemployment rates have been consistently higher in Irvine than the other five localities in North Ayrshire.[66]

The biggest industry in North Ayrshire is wholesale and retail trade (including repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles), providing 17.5% of jobs in the area.[67] The second biggest industry is human health and social work activities (15%), followed by manufacturing (11.2%).[68] There has been a 1% increase in total employment (1,700 jobs) between 2008 and 2019 compared to a national increase of 2% over the same time period.[69] Wholesale and retail, human health and social work, and accommodation and food services are forecasted to be the largest employing sectors in 2028.[70] The industries with the fewest jobs in the area are mining and quarrying (0.2%) and information and communication (0.6%) which are lower than the level across Scotland.[71] The industries with the largest employment decreases are forecast in mining and quarrying (-26%), manufacturing (-14%) and public administration and defence (-13%).[72]

In June 2019, the total number of people claiming out-of-work benefits was 4,585 (5.6%)[73]. 2,800 (7.1%) of these claimants were male and 1,785 were female (4.1%).[74] The total rate of benefit claimants was higher than the 3.1% in Scotland. The claimant rate was highest for 18 to 24 year olds (8.1%), followed by 25 to 49 year olds (6.6%) and those aged 50+ (3.8%).[75] In March 2017, the Irvine claimant count accounted for one third of the North Ayrshire total claimants.[76]

The population of working age residents is expected to decline by 13% across the Irvine locality between 2012 and 2016, with a decline of the same rate for North Ayrshire.[77] Those aged 65+ are the only age group projected to increase in size in the Irvine locality (up to 35%) and North Ayrshire (31%.).[78]

There have been a variety of initiatives in the Ayrshire region to increase economic growth, investment and the availability of jobs. For example, as part of the £251.5 million Ayrshire Growth deal, the UK and Scottish Governments and the South, East and North Ayrshire Councils will be investing millions of pounds to create approximately 7000 jobs over a 15-year period.[79]

A higher proportion of the population have low or no skills compared to national statistics for Scotland more generally
In 2018, 37.5% of people in North Ayrshire had the highest level of education (NVQ4 and above).[80] This was a smaller proportion than the national level for Scotland (44.2%). 10.4% of people had no qualifications which was higher than the figure for Scotland (9.7%).

In the same year, 36% of jobs in the area were higher level occupations, 37% were mid-level occupations and 27% were lower level occupations.[81] 2016/2017 school leaver data showed that 38% of school leavers went into higher education; 32% went into further education; 20% were employed; 5% unemployed and seeking; 2% unemployed and not seeking[82]. A final 4% went into training and activity agreements.

North Ayrshire Council has a long standing focus on local employability initiatives, with a particular emphasis on youth employment:

  • The Council offers some Modern Apprenticeships for people younger than 20 years old. It includes a 2-week pre-employment apprenticeship training[83]
  • North Ayrshire Youth Employment Support provides opportunities for young people (16-24) and supports business growth for local employers. Includes pre-employment support, pre-vocational training, a six months wage subsidy enabling companies to create a new position for the young person, post-employment support if the placement does not become permanent[84]
  • Employability Pipeline is a multi-strategy service, helping young people increase their chances of getting employment. The council supports the stages of the pipeline through the Employability Hub initiative[85]
  • Employability Hubs is a multi-agency service with 16 partners giving support to unemployed individuals aged 16 and above. The hubs offer help with CVs, online applications, training courses and English language skills.[86]
  • Other employment services in the area include:
  • Employability Fund Stage 4 gives those 18+ years placement opportunities in North Ayrshire Council for 26 weeks. Opportunity to gain SVQ 2 Business Administration qualification on completion of the placement[87]
  • Progress to work is a service offered by SALUS, an NHS based provider, aimed at those who are unemployed, live in North Ayrshire and experience health and well-being barriers to employment. It assists people to move closer or return to the labour market. It includes pre-employment packages, having a case manager, action plan and can include counselling, physiotherapy or occupational therapy.[88]

There is a disability opportunity gap
In 2017, the Scottish disability employment gap (the difference between the employment rate of people with a disability and the population as a whole) was 35.8%, with the North Ayrshire gap slightly lower (31.7%).[89] This figure for North Ayrshire is large due to a lower employment rate and lower disability employment rate in North Ayrshire than Scotland as a whole.

Management and Performance Data for Irvine

The infographic overleaf draws on the management and performance data collected between April 2018 and March 2019. It covers all FSS participants who are registered with the Irvine Job Centre which supports participants from Irvine and the surrounding small communities. There are job centres in nearby Saltcoats and Kilmarnock whose participants are not included in this analysis.

  • 71 individuals participated in 2018/19

  • 46% Male

  • 54% Female

  • 72% with disability or health condition

  • 36% aged under 35 years

  • 41% aged 35- 49

  • 23% aged 50+

  • 6% Sustained work for 13 weeks

    • 9% of men

    • 8% of women

    • 12% with disability/health condition

    • 7% without

  • 7% sustained work for 26 weeks

Key trends to note in Irvine are:

  • 95% of participants identified as White Scottish and 3% identifying as white other/British, with only 1% from an ethnic group. 1% of respondents chose not to disclose their ethnicity.
  • 54% of participants were female, compared to 46% who were male – compared to 64% male and 35% female in FSS across all lot areas.
  • 20% were aged 16-24; 16% were aged 25-34; 41% were aged 35-49; and 23% were aged 50+. Across all FSS lot areas the most common age of participants was 35 to 49 (31% of participants).
  • Of participants in the FSS service in Irvine, 71.8% of people recorded as having a disability or some form of health condition – compared to 64% across all FSS lot areas. The most common types of illness were mental health and mobility issues. Of the participants who recorded an illness, 58.8% said that it affected their ability to carry out day-to-day activities. 43.3% responding that it affected their ability to work ‘a lot’ and 56.7% saying it affected their ability to work ‘a little’.
  • 6% of participants obtained and sustained 13 continuous weeks of working at least 16 hours per week. 7% sustained employment for 26 continuous weeks of working at least 16 hours per week. This is compared to 9%, and 4% across all FSS lot areas respectively.
  • 9% of male participants sustained 13 continuous weeks of working at least 16 hours per week compared to 8% of female participants.
  • The age group most likely to sustain 13 continuous weeks of working at least 16 hours per week was 50+ years (12.5% of this age group), while the least likely age group was 16-24 (0% of this age group).

Description of service

FSS in the South West contract area is delivered by Start Scotland, and in North Ayrshire the service is subcontracted to one of the joint venture partners, The Lennox Partnership (TLP). The North Ayrshire service is delivered from a two-story community-owned centre in a residential area of Irvine. Downstairs there is a community hall and a café and the upstairs rooms are occupied by a range of service providers including TLP and one of North Ayrshire Council’s Employment Hubs (which is staffed part time).

The service is delivered by 5 staff all of whom have extensive employability experience and have in the past worked for other providers locally. The centre provides a range of services and, after its relatively recent opening, it is developing as a place where local people go to get support on a wide range of issues. Many of these initial engagements are with the centre manager who is then able to refer them to the most appropriate service:

“A lot of people are off the system – we get them in here and I can guide them to the most appropriate service. I can see that [FSS] is working for people.” Centre Manager

The service has approximately 90 active FSS clients at any one time. Most referrals are from JCP but the conversion of these referrals to FSS participants is much lower than for other [third party] referrals. This means that third party referrals are being strongly encouraged by focusing on family and friends and community outreach. JCP referrals fluctuate quite a lot and TLP tries to refresh work coach’s awareness of the service on a regular basis. Two non-participants who we interviewed stated that they became aware of the service through leaflets distributed through JCP, however they were already being supported by another employability service. One of these non-participants stated that there was no particular reason for choosing the other service, as they were signposted to that service when they visited the employability hub, and they felt they might have registered FSS if they had visited on a different day.

TLP is looking to diversify its sources of clients and further increase self-referrals, and is using a variety of means to achieve this. It is using social media and is now getting some referrals from Facebook (sharing posts to the local Jobcentre). TLP have distributed 2,000 leaflets – focusing on Irvine and Ardrossan where there is particularly high unemployment and extensive social housing areas: these leaflets include a number to ring, Facebook/Twitter, and website address. In addition, TLP regularly email clients asking them to refer to family and friends and they hold open days to attract in local residents.

TLP is also developing relationships with Links Workers[90] to connect with GPs where they can be included in social prescribing options. In addition, there is extensive posting of adverts/posters locally – in chip shops, corner shops, community centres, and GP surgeries (where helpful receptionists can be useful allies). TLP are also using ‘pop ups’ at local Primary School Sports Days. TLP stress the significance of health issues and the extent to which they can feel too much of a barrier to participants.

“Anxiety and depression can get in the way – hence the significance of our links to GPs.” Provider

The significance of health conditions was confirmed through our discussion with Jobcentre Plus staff locally:

“The case load is health conditions – UC, ESA, JSA – across the board in terms of ages: for young people the issue is mental health, for older people the issue is physical conditions. Lots of our customers have major health issues.”
JCP staff

There were implications for JCP referrals to FSS, with the view being expressed that other local providers may be better able to meet the needs of some of these customers:

“Other providers can take more time with serious health issues – SDS, SALUS – more on a one to one basis.” JCP staff

This view was reflected in feedback from two of the participants we interviewed in Irvine. One interviewee said they were “eager” to return to their previous employability service as the support they received from FSS was not personalised enough and too infrequent. They felt that they require more intensive and specific support due to their disability, and that they were only receiving one meeting every fortnight with their FSS advisor, compared with two meetings a week with their previous service. Another, who is not a native English speaker, stated that they chose to leave FSS as they did not have access to a dedicated literacy support worker, whereas they saw a literacy worker three times a week with their previous service.

The FSS service offered by TLP combines community outreach, ongoing support and employer engagement and is driven by a vision which focuses on ‘stabilising the whole life of a client before they go into work.’ The service displays a strongly personal approach – The service displays a strongly personal approach, for examples ending an email to every client when they introduce the staff member who will be involved in their transition to work. This is complemented by a strong network of third sector organisations – who provide some specialist support but mainly are a source of voluntary placements. The range of voluntary opportunities that can be offered to FSS participants is seen as very important – between 5-10% of clients take up voluntary roles, and it appears to be particularly important for young people – providing them with a role on their CV and boosting their confidence. The relationships that have been developed by TLP include community centres, Beith Trust, Cancer Care Shop, Garden/Landscaping and a Mans’ Shed/Allotment.

“We use volunteering for lot of things – if they are anxious this is our first thought – a few weeks of volunteering and then they get a job – it is about confidence.” Provider

This engagement with third sector organisations is complemented by close working with employers in the early weeks of employment. It is seen as part of creating a rounded approach to the client’s situation. In other words, there is a commitment to ensuring that the whole needs of the participants and their household are met – for example, ensuring that their health condition is managed and any issues about debt can be carefully dealt with.

Participants valued this aspect of the support, with many interviewees identifying the most helpful aspects of FSS to be the support they received to boost their self-esteem and confidence, and to help them to build soft skills such as speaking in public and engaging in social interactions.

This is reflected in the rounded service offered to employers. A major local employer felt that FSS offered a distinctive service in terms of the quality of their relationship with TLP. The provider appeared to offer the company support which went well beyond a focus on the FSS clients – they helped the company find sources of support for all their staff (eg Mental Health, local foodbanks) and this was part of the creation of a new and different kind of relationship which brought mutual benefit.

“Follow up support is important – this can be quite a small issue (eg admitting that they can’t afford to get to the site). Most of our LTU recruits have mental health issues - anxiety, depression, panic attacks – and we have lots of clubs and social activities to counteract this.” Employer

“[FSS] preparation is very good - they came up to find out all about us. No one else has made us aware of the other things they can help us with – eg foodbanks. They think about us in the round. They are really good at documentation – background checks, birth certificate, passport, proof of NI, proof of address.” Employer

Local jobs include warehousing, hospitality/catering, retail including large local supermarkets, call centres, care and health – however many employers are looking for experience in candidates. A few participants who we interviewed also noted that age can be a factor, with employers seeking long-term commitments from new employees. Many local jobs are in the public sector, such as those with the NHS, in the education sector and working for the local authority.

There are good transport links to the Glasgow labour market but for those seeking entry level jobs the travel cost would be prohibitive. More generally, transport is seen as a real issue across North Ayrshire, especially for clients in the outlying villages, in terms of both access to support and to training and employment.

There is a lot of alternative local provision of employability support, particularly by North Ayrshire Council and includes CEiS which has had a long standing presence in the area and has been a long term provider partner of the Council. The wider interviews identified some issues about competition, and difficulties in positioning FSS clearly in a crowded local employability landscape. Partners found it hard to pinpoint the distinctive features of FSS compared with other available services, and referrals were often on the basis of trusted working relationships.

“Work Coaches can distinguish [FSS] from other provision but need to be aware that other providers are offering very similar. I don’t know what the USP of [FSS] is – Work Coaches simply tell customers what is available.” JCP staff

The local authority feels that it is able to provide a longer term, more intensive service, and that any new provider will find it hard if not impossible to replicate its long-standing working relationships with a range of complementary services:

There is a huge difference between what a commercial company has time to do and what we can do – the links we have in the Council are substantial and well-established over several years – any provider will take time to establish networks. And there is a lot of duplication of funding across different services.” LA staff

TLP recognises this very competitive local environment:

“It is very competitive locally – there is so much provision and it is over-complicated. I can’t help some clients because of double funding.” Provider

The service is meeting its job outcome targets and staff see referrals and starts as its main issue. The relationship with Jobcentre Plus is not seen as close but the service engages with Work Coaches and seeks regularly to refresh their awareness of the service and what it can offer alongside other local provision. The engagement and awareness of Work Coaches and other staff can make a difference to referrals – for example, the service reported that a new manager at one of the Jobcentres led to a spike in referrals to FSS.

TLP staff see FSS as distinctive and different from Work Service:

“People like coming because it is a choice. They have to come in for 3 hours every week – but a lot of this is blended around their needs. It is more relaxed – it doesn't feel corporate and focused on efficiency.” Provider

“This feels more relaxed, less regimented – people are here because they want to be here and they have heard good stories locally.” Provider

“The key difference from Work Service is flexibility and our scope to be innovative.” Provider

Lessons from this case study

FSS is delivered from a community owned centre in a residential area. This centre seen as a place where local people can go for a range of activities, services and support, and the siting of the Fair Start service here has been a factor in ensuring that it is seen as appealing and accessible by local residents. In addition, centre staff are able to guide to FSS those for whom the service appears appropriate, so it is an effective way of reaching those who are not engaging with JCP.

The dense local support network for those seeking work means that it is particularly important for any new employability service to develop and reinforce a clear and distinctive position in the market and ensure that it is reaching those who can most benefit from its particular offer. However, the competitive environment means that there is a lack of a collegiate and mutual support for services, and inter-service referral is limited. In the words of a JCP staff member:

“There are 4 or 5 major ‘supermarkets’ – that is how I feel about the [employability] offer in Irvine - FSS is just one of these supermarkets. It is very hard to see the USP and to have good news stories – there is nothing from Irvine in the [JLP] newsletter.”

The creation of a ‘wrap around’ service for employers (as well as for clients) has been appreciated – this service goes well beyond a focus on a particular client and appropriate support for them in work to involves thinking more holistically about how the provider can support employers in the wider recruitment and workforce context.

TLP have developed a careful support system for staff, with a lot of peer support and regular check ins by the manager. This is in response to two sources of stress – the situation of clients (“Clients can be suicidal”) coupled with the perceived stress of coping with the administrative demands of the service.

“We have a strong team, they help each other but understand importance of self-care. They talk about clients, make suggestions, have case conferences and 1-2-1 reviews. All of them have had Mental Health First Aid training.” Provider

“The KDIs are driven by the right reasons but cause stress – the fear is that, if you miss a drop down box or get the wording wrong, we will incur a service credit – so there is a fear of making mistakes. We get very busy and caught up with the job – and the system is a bit clunky and not as intuitive as it could be. The issue is the time it takes, not the KDIs themselves.” Provider

The required contact time is seen as a useful discipline, but it is seen as important to be flexible and respond to the client’s situation and how this may change over time:

“It’s good to get clients in every week – it maintains momentum and it can be their main social interaction, and we can use mitigation reasons if we need to.”

However, the vulnerability of clients is reflected in a lot of re-scheduled appointments – this is seen as part of their health condition –

“They can have a bad day and this allows us to recognise and respond to this.”

“It’s important to work at their pace – they need to buy into it.”

The inability to fund training is seen as a problem, although TLP are able to place clients on locally funded catering and food hygiene courses:

“We can only fund training if there is a strong probability that the client will get a job as a result. Because we can’t fund training we need to rely on employers picking up the tab so we need to be open and honest with employers.”

There are two issues about client referral. One is the issue of eligible versus appropriate referrals from JCP, recognising that the provider has 12 to 18 months to work with a participant ad move them into work:

“There has been feedback from Work Coaches that they have been told that FSS is not suitable for the clients they have referred. Work Coaches are making a genuine referral, but this is not meeting what the provider is looking for. Customers can play off one against the other – and it is very difficult to assess where the issues lie.” JCP staff

Linked to this are issues arising from provider-spourced referrals (third part referrals), where a JCP Work Coach had not been aware of a customer’s health condition until theey see [have to verify] a disability-related FSS referral for that individual:

“There has been a huge increase in direct referrals from the provider – nearly all (13/14) have been under FSS 1 under disabled and our eligibility criteria mean they can get direct access from day 1. Not all customers have told the Work Coaches that they have a health issue – and we then see them with their own perception that they are disabled which is a bit surprising. Health has not been seen as a barrier before.” JCP staff

These issues have a significant effect on the quality of the relationship between the FSS provider and JCP staff . This has been compounded by staff being recruited from a previous local provider, and this appears to have influenced the perception of both Work Coaches and clients. The frequency and quality of feedback from the provider to Work Coaches is seen as really important in building an effective working relationship and currently Work Coaches report they are not getting the feedback they feel would be helpful and appropriate to support participants.

“There is a need [for the provider] to build up the relationship with Work Coaches and know what is happening to each customer and how they are moving on.”
JCP staff

There is a general sense that the voluntary nature of the FSS service is helpful but it is clear that it makes the situation of Work Coaches more challenging:

“Clients may not turn up [at FSS] and the voluntary nature becomes more challenging – it’s frustrating when numbers of referrals get talked about. Success relies on customers actually wanting to do it. They can agree to a FSS referral just to get out of the interview and the Jobcentre.” Provider


Email: kirstie.corbett@gov.scot

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