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.

Findings and recommendations

In this chapter we draw out the most important findings from our examination of FSS practice in three locations, together with the responses from participants.

The immediate context of the FSS delivery
can make a significant impact on the appeal and effectiveness of the service. There are two aspects to this:

  • The extent to which FSS is part of a wider service offering. In Wick, for example, the provider also delivers a complementary ‘short, sharp’ employability service which provides a taster, a test of commitment, and an opportunity for the provider to assess whether the client will benefit from a longer-term service. In addition. there is scope for the provider to assess which service is best for the client. In Irvine, the service is delivered in a multi-service centre attracts a range of potential clients and the ability to guide them to the most appropriate service. In Alloa, the service is delivered from the offices of Clackmannanshire Works with direct access to a range of Council services.
  • The extent to which the service is delivered from accessible and welcoming premises. In each of the three locations the service is delivered from highly accessible offices. In Wick the service is in the lower ground floor of a converted house in the centre of a residential area close to the area with the highest unemployment in the town – the open plan, three roomed premises feel welcoming and provide both company and privacy when needed. In Irvine the office is in a relatively new and appealing community owned and run centre which includes a range of activities and a café and increasingly is attracting people seeking a range of support. The delivery of the service in Alloa from the long-standing Clacks Works offices means that there is a familiarity with a well-established trusted provider.

The nature of pre-existing relationships, local contacts and familiarity, and local knowledge makes a substantial difference to the ease with which the service has been established. In Wick the service is delivered by a team of two, both of whom have delivered employability services locally over a number of years. In particular, the business principal has excellent working relationships with Jobcentre Plus staff and with a range of local charities and employers in terms of volunteering and work placement opportunities, and is a trusted presence for FSS participants. In Alloa, the delivery of FSS by the long-established Clacks Works organisation has lent the service instant trust and credibility. This can cut both ways. In Irvine the fact that some FSS staff were recruited from previous providers which may not have had consistently strong positive reputations may have made the establishment of good working relationships with both partners and clients harder. In Irvine the Local Authority stressed how hard it would be for any FSS provider to replicate the range and depth of networks and relationships that the Local Authority had built over the years, however assiduously the provider worked at this.

The relationship between FSS provider staff and Jobcentre Plus staff is particularly important. The quality of these relationships was strongly related to the length and nature of prior local relationships. In one of the localities the new FSS provider had been keen to run pre-recruitment group sessions at the Jobcentre for those who may be interested in the service, but this was not possible because of national policy (with the Work Coaches’ role being to provide their customers with information on the range of local provision rather than promoting any particular service). There was a view that the relationship had never recovered from this false start. In another location there was clearly a considerable amount of trust between provider staff and Work Coaches with a ready and regular flow of information about referrals and clients back and forth – in this relationship there were few issues about eligible/appropriate clients as these were worked out in conversations.

The density and complexity of the local infrastructure of employability support makes a big difference to the nature and effectiveness of the FSS service. In the denser, more competitive landscapes there was noticeably weaker communication and joint working, while in the area with very few providers there was a very obvious collegiate feel between the different partners.

The range and scale of local job opportunities had an impact on the FSS service, although in all three locations unemployment is at a long-term low, meaning that those who are seeking work tend to present with a range of barriers to work. It was the view of all the providers that, with the right support and help, there should be openings for most clients (particularly given the fact only those who can realistically gain work within 12 months should be referred). However, in two of the locations some clients faced significant employer prejudice because of their families’ reputation.

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, and in one location a charity dedicated to helping them sort out their lives and establish some routines provided a solid stepping stone from which clients could be referred to FSS. All the FSS providers recognised that they need to provide a holistic, long term service to those who faced a number of barriers to work and a history of unemployment and poor mental or physical health. Given this, there is an issue about the difficulty of creating motivational activity during the FSS experience. Providers recognise that it may not be realistic to expect employers to provide these, certainly at the scale that may be required locally, so there are suggestions about the need to provide subsidies for work experience or support enterprises owned by local communities and producing locally useful products and services.

The configuration of the FSS providers’ staff teams display some interesting differences. While all have adopted the ‘key worker’ approach, 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 (eg external marketing, community engagement and employer engagement) are more clearly separated among staff. It will be useful to explore the different team roles in depth in future local case studies.

This issue about eligible versus appropriate referrals still exists. Essentially, this is about the professional judgement that a participant will be able to gain work for at least 16hrs per week within a year. Since the financial model is backloaded (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 Work Coaches may be more optimistic about what is possible.

There appeared to be significant variation in the ability of providers to fund or access training. Some of them funded some short training or certification themselves while others were able to draw down JCP funding up to £150 for things like CSCS certification, while others were able to call on local training (eg food hygiene and cookery) that were delivered by local charities with third party funding. 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 FSS service. Many clients led disorganised lives with elements of unpredictability and regular setbacks. This means that it may be better for them to take a break from the service without the time taken out being removed from their 12-month timeframe. Staff felt that flexibility should also extend to the ability of being able to access FSS more than once. Staff reported that participants can be referred who aren’t ready at that time, but may be able to benefit from FSS at a future date (for example, once another external factor had been addressed or their situation had settled down). However, staff reported that it was currently not possible to decline or defer a referral to enable participants to come to FSS at a later date.

There was appreciation of the regional coverage of the Fair Start contracts. Some providers felt that it helped them work together strategically and share learning and expertise across their region,particularly where there is specialist expertise or experience in a particular area in the region. This is the case in the Forth Valley contract area.However, at an operational level FSS is set up as three distinct Local Authority area services as they felt this enabled them to best support their local clients. There is very little operational activity happening at a regional level. While this combination of regional sharing and local delivery provides some pointers for future service optimisation, it does raise issues about how to ensure that clients have ready access to regional labour markets, and there may be value in a more regional approach to the job matching function and job broker role to ensure that job opportunities are not arbitrarily limited by each local authority provider looking for roles only within their local authority boundaries.

FSS providers have been unable to draw on ESF supported provision – where it is locally available – in creating fully comprehensive pathways for participants. Given the scale of locally available ESF funded support, and the approaching implementation of No One Left Behind, the Scottish Government may want to reflect on how all available funding can be used most efficiently to enable full local service integration for participants.

Related to this was the consistent issue of 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 of travelling to jobs in Stirling, and 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.

Feedback from participants
Overall, participants reported very positive feedback about FSS and the service appears to be successfully supporting people to make progress towards employment in line with the Scottish Government’s Fair Work principles of dignity and respect. Our key findings from interviews with participants, non-participants and key workers are summarised below:

  • JCP and self-referral seem appear to be the two main routes to FSS currently and some non-participants were unaware of the service. This may suggest a need for greater awareness raising of the service amongst organisations supporting potential participants.
  • Participants and non-participants experience a range of barriers to finding employment, such as disability, age, caring and parenting duties, and a lack of skills. Common barriers include employers’ lack of flexibility to accommodate caring duties, a perceived bias among employers towards candidates from younger age groups, and a lack of IT skills.

Overall, interviewees were very positive about the support provided by FSS. 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.

Participants appreciate the holistic assistance FSS provides, which is not always directly related to the individual’s employability. Participants reported that key workers often assisted them with individual needs such as arranging medical appointments, applying for Universal Credit, signposting to other services, and in providing moral support with their lives more generally.

Most participants preferred FSS to the prior services, including Work Programme, as their key workers provided more personalised support and were more understanding, but two participants interviewed reported that they preferred another service as FSS did not meet their support needs. This may indicate some weaknesses in the FSS service in Irvine that require further examination.

Participants reported various positive outcomes from taking part in FSS including enhanced confidence, skills and experience as well as reduced isolation. For some, this had successfully helped them to find work, while others felt more confident and positive about their on-going job search.


Email: kirstie.corbett@gov.scot

Back to top