Fair Start Scotland evaluation report 2: overview of year one - November 2019

Second report in a series on the evaluation of Fair Start Scotland employability services. It covers the first full year of service delivery (Mar 18 - Apr 19) and summarises findings from a participant phone survey, local area case studies and analysis of management information.

5. Process: referral & service delivery

This section of the report summarises key findings in relation to the process of delivering FSS services. Firstly, it briefly covers participant feedback on the referral process (from the telephone survey). The main feedback however is from the more detailed case study interviews with the FSS Service Providers, and their local partners in Alloa, Irvine and Wick and focuses on the strengths and challenges they have encountered in delivering FSS in each of these areas over the past year.

5.1 Referrals

Ease of engagement

Respondents to the telephone survey were asked how easy they found it to engage with the service and about any difficulties they may have encountered. Positively, nine out of ten respondents (89%) felt that it was easy to engage with, with 72% rating the experience as “very easy”.

Of those that considered engagement to be easy, two-fifths (38%) stated that this was because the process was straightforward (38%). A further fifth said that the Jobcentre had helped them to engage with the FSS service provider (20%).

Those who were in work at the point of interview were more likely to describe the process as straightforward (46% vs 35%) and less likely to say the Jobcentre facilitated their FSS engagement (11% vs 24%) than those not in work. Those in work were also more likely to say that their FSS advisor was friendly (25% vs 16%), and the process was quick (16% vs 8%) compared with those not in work.

Figure 2 below shows the full range of responses on why participants found engaging with FSS services easy.

Figure 2: Experience of engaging with FSS: why did you find it easy?

Figure 2: Experience of engaging with FSS: why did you find it easy?

Source: FSS Participant Phone Survey Year 1 (IFF Research).

Only three percent of participants considered the referral and engagement process to be difficult. The types of challenges this group mentioned included feeling that there had been too many questions asked of them at the initial meeting, or that the engagement process was slow. A handful felt that they had not received enough communication from their FSS Provider, whilst others felt that their learning condition had contributed to their difficulties in engaging.[10]

5.2 Service delivery – local area cases studies

The aims of the local area case studies were to:

  • understand how FSS is being implemented across the different Lots in Scotland;
  • understand the experience of FSS for lead providers, partner organisations, participants and employers;
  • identify what is working well and less well in the implementation of Fair Start Scotland; and
  • identify lessons learned and recommend changes to consider for the remainder of the FSS contract period, as well as shaping what the next iteration of employment support in Scotland might look like.

The research locations were chosen as they were large enough to provide a discrete, identifable community within their larger FSS contract and local authority areas, were supported by a single Jobcentre and were representative of a range of different demographic characteristics, including ethnicity, population density, rurality and levels of deprivation.

See Appendix 2 for full details of the FSS lead and partner providers in each FSS contract area (Lot).

The following section sets out the headline feedback from those involved in delivering and receiving FSS services in Alloa, Wick and Irvine.

Full details of the case studies are published separately as: “Fair Start Scotland Evaluation Report 2: Local area case studies (year 1)”.

This report is available on the Scottish Government and Employability in Scotland websites alongside this overview.

Fair Start Scotland in Alloa

Alloa is part of the FSS Forth Valley Lot which covers three local authority areas: Falkirk, Clackmannanshire and Stirling. The lead provider for Forth Valley is Falkirk Council, who are delivering FSS in partnership with the Clackmannanshire and Stirling local authorities and NHS Forth Valley.

The three councils operate FSS fairly independently, with each council responsible for the delivery of Fair Start Scotland in their area. FSS support in Clackmannanshire is delivered by the Council’s own employability service “Clackmannanshire Works”, known locally as “Clacks Works”.

Strengths of the FSS delivery model in Alloa

  • The operation of the service by the three local authorities in the contract area appears to be working well overall and staff from the two local authorities interviewed recognised the benefit of taking a regional approach to planning, strategy and resourcing even if operationally the programme is run more locally.
  • It was noted by partners that FSS in Clackmannanshire seemed to be doing well in coordinating local effort already in place, and the established relationships and reputation held by Clackmannanshire Works appeared to be helpful in establishing the service early.
  • There was a general consensus from those interviewed that, given low national unemployment rates, a service that focuses on health and work is an important focus.
  • Clackmannanshire Works (and Falkirk Council as the lead provider) have valued their relationship with Scottish Government, in particular their openness with providers and focus on continuous improvement.
  • The key worker model is seen as valuable.
  • Providers viewed the flexibility of the FSS delivery model around “pausing” support as particularly useful as it allowed them to respond to unpredictability or setbacks in participants’ lives.
  • Participants value the personalised and wide-ranging support that the service offers, as well as the key workers’ understanding and non-judgemental approach, which is in line with the Scottish Government’s principles of dignity and respect.
  • Employers reported positive interactions with FSS in Clackmannanshire, but felt that awareness of the service was still building amongst employers.
  • Most employers felt that FSS participants had met or surpassed their expectations.

“At first, I thought there must be a catch, but there wasn’t. It was very flexible.” (Employer)

  • Employers also reported feeling that providing work experience was an important part of contributing to their community, and that it would have reputational benefits for them as well.

Challenges encountered delivering FSS in Alloa

  • FSS providers and local partners felt that long term sustainability of the broader network of local services in the area required financial investment and support, and also mentioned that they found it a challenge not to be able to use European Structural Funds to augment the budgets available for training.
  • For some participants, particularly those with complex needs, finding employment within 12 months is challenging. Progress towards employment, such as volunteering or full-time study are significant achievements for participants, but are not recognised within the FSS payment and outcomes structure.
  • Similarly, local partners felt that, due to a range of factors the goal of 16 hours work per week may be too much for some participants to sustain, but that the FSS payment model did not recognise jobs of fewer than 16 hours per week.
  • Providers suggested that early entry could be extended to other groups of individuals e.g. those leaving the armed forces, to allow more timely access to support.

“We have people who are work ready and want the help, but they’ve not been unemployed long enough” (JCP staff)

  • Despite consultation on devolved employment services suggesting that referrals for support should not include too much historic detail on participants, some [Provider] key workers had concerns that they did not have many details on participants prior to engaging with them. This was felt to have an impact on the key workers’ ability to provide tailored support from the outset and meant that key workers had to rely on uncovering information themselves through working with the participant.
  • Linked to the point above, key workers would like the flexibility to have an early conversation with participants and then give them a chance to think about whether Fair Start Scotland is for them before participation on the service starts.
  • Providers were concerned that some participants could find the first induction meeting intimidating as the FSS process is very detailed, and the amount of information involved can feel overwhelming for some more vulnerable participants.

Lorna’s Story

Lorna’s Story

Fair Start Scotland in Wick

FSS in Wick is contracted to People Plus as part of the Highlands and Islands Lot, and is delivered locally by Clearview 2020 Ltd. Both People Plus and Clearview 2020 Ltd are private sector employability providers.

Strengths of the FSS model in Wick

  • The main strengths in Wick arise from the established relationships between the very small number of local partners involved in commissioning and delivery of employability services in this rural area.
  • FSS exists alongside a separate employability support programme funded by the local authority, which providers felt was an invaluable ‘stepping stone’ to FSS. The initial support not only helps the provider to assess the commitment of the individual to a longer term period of support, but can also help individuals to develop the routines and practices that they will need to make the most of FSS.
  • This combination of services makes referral from Jobcentre Plus much more straightforward as they trust the provider to make the best use of each service depending on the needs and situation of the individual.

“There has to be a good working relationship with DWP – we are all talking to the same people. I can pick up the phone and say have you referred X, I am working with Y, I have an issue, what do you think. Everything is done with really good intentions.” (Provider)

  • Although the three hours face to face support is seen as a challenge for some participants, the Scottish Government has relaxed the earlier definitions around this, and the provider has been creative in ensuring that experiences can be developed that meet the needs of each individual. The issue is not so much about the time or distance involved, as about finding the appropriate kinds of engagement.
  • There has been some confusion about the criteria for referral and although this now appears to be clearer, there is still scope for improved understanding across partners. Most difficulties have been resolved through the close working relationship between the provider and the local Jobcentre Plus.

Challenges arising in delivering FSS services in Wick

  • Challenges are mostly specific to the remote rural location. There was general agreement from the provider and their partners that, while the voluntary approach had helped with many individuals, it wasn’t sufficient to engage some potential participants. Local partners were aware of people who had benefitted from mandatory programmes in the past and who would not have participated in a voluntary programme. The feedback from providers and partners suggested that this was most likely due to the distance some participants would have to travel to attend training and the lack of local childcare provision.

“The main difference from Work Programme is that [FSS] is voluntary - and this is where problems begin. As soon as we mention it is voluntary, they decide not to come. They don’t want to commit to 3 hours a week - there are real issues of travel and childcare.” (Provider)

  • Many areas of the north Highlands have limited fixed and mobile coverage[11], which makes it difficult for both clients and providers to use online tools that would otherwise help provide a solution to some of the financial and practical challenges of providing support and working in a more remote area.
  • There are also financial issues for providers about the inflated costs of paying for travel, required certification and training for FSS participants in rural areas. For example, the funding of CSCS [construction skills] cards is an issue, compounded by the only local provision being a private provider in Thurso charging £334, and the cheaper provision in Inverness being over 100 miles away.
  • There are few other employability services in the local area and a lack of specialist provision, which means that the support available to participants with more complex barriers is less comprehensive than elsewhere, with longer waiting times for specialist support.

“There are not many providers left, so there is nowhere to refer clients to for specialist support. We can refer to a GP but any specialist help needs to be at the end of a [telephone] line.” (Provider)

“There are staff shortages in supporting those with anxiety and depression – there is a 2 year waiting list to see a Community Psychiatric Nurse.” (Provider)

  • Participants highlighted the lack of anonymity in the local area, with some finding it hard to find work because of the reputation of their families.

Chris’s Story

Chris’s Story

Fair Start Scotland in Irvine

FSS in Irvine is contracted to Start Scotland as part of the South West Lot, and is delivered locally by The Lennox Partnership, a third sector employability provider. The South West Lot also includes South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway.

Strengths of FSS delivery model in Irvine

  • FSS in Irvine is delivered from a building with strong community ownership and appeal, where a range of other local support services are based. Interviewees saw this as important in ensuring that they are able to offer an appealing and accessible service. The building is seen as a place where local people can go for a range of activities, services and support, so it is an effective way of reaching those who are not engaging with JCP.
  • The creation of a ‘wrap around’ service for employers (as well as for participants) has been appreciated – this goes well beyond a focus on a particular individual and appropriate support for them in work to think more holistically about how the provider can support employers in the wider recruitment and workforce context.

“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 [long term unemployed] recruits have mental health issues - anxiety, depression, panic attacks – and we have lots of clubs and social activities to counteract this.” (Employer)

  • The local FSS provider has 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 participants (“individuals can be suicidal”) coupled with the administrative demands of the service.
  • The [three hours] required contact time is seen as a useful discipline, and providers recognised the importance of flexibility in being able to respond to an individual’s situation, and how this may change over time.
  • However, the vulnerability of participants 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.” (FSS Provider)

Challenges of delivering FSS in Irvine

  • The cost to a provider of funding participant training from within their FSS contract was cited as a challenge, although the local provider is 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.” (FSS Provider)

  • Both JCP staff and provider staff reported ongoing challenges around the nature of customer referrals to FSS services. 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 and 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. [JCP] 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-sourced referrals (third party referrals), where a JCP Work Coach had not been aware of a customer’s health condition until they see [have to verify] a disability-related FSS referral for that individual:

“There has been a huge increase in direct referrals from providers – nearly all have been [referred under their disability] and the FSS eligibility criteria mean they can get direct access from day 1. Not all customers have told the [JCP] 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 had an effect on the quality of the relationship between the local FSS provider and JCP staff. This has been compounded by staff being recruited from a previous provider that did not have a high local reputation, which appears to have influenced the perception of both Work Coaches and participants. 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 that they are not getting the feedback they feel would be helpful and appropriate to support participants.
  • The high number of local providers for those seeking work means that it is particularly important for any new employability service to develop and reinforce a clear and distinctive position, and to ensure that it is reaching those who can most benefit from its particular offer. However, the resulting competitive environment sometimes 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 [JCP] newsletter.”

Reflections and next steps from Alloa, Wick and Irvine case studies

What worked well?

  • Locating FSS services along with existing local employability services or support organisations is an effective way to make them more identifiable and accessible to the wider community.
  • Building strong and trusting personal and organisational level relationships with delivery partners, particularly local Jobcentre staff, is crucial to effective service delivery for all parties involved.
  • The FSS model of delivering services through an established local sub-contracted provider, with the lead contractor providing links across the lot to other partners and supply chain providers, appears to work effectively where there are clear roles and responsibilities, and flexibility at the local level.
  • Participants report that they can see and feel the benefits of FSS support and that providers treat them with dignity and respect. Participants report an increase in their confidence, job-related skills and general well-being as a result.

What could be improved?

  • Providers felt that FSS does not appropriately recognise jobs of less than 16 hours a week. Similarly, when the number of hours a partipant will work can often vary from week to week, this can create administrative challenges for providers of ongoing (in-work) support and for payment schedules.
  • Providers advised that achievements/ outcomes were only focused on sustained job outcomes. Volunteering/ studying can be considered a big step towards the labour market but these steps aren't financially recognised within the current FSS outcome structure.
  • Travel costs when a participant starts work can be prohibitive to participants taking entry level work, especially in rural/ remote areas.
  • Many non-participants interviewed were unaware of the service, suggesting that there remains scope for Jobcentre Plus and service providers to engage with other groups of potentially eligible participants in each area.
  • More flexibility around disengaging and re-engaging, and the potential to delay a prospective participant’s referral is important because unpredictability or setbacks in participants lives can mean it's better for them to commence support when they’re ready, and to be able to take a break without losing the time from pre-employment support.
  • Some work coaches feel they would value more frequent feedback and communication between JobCentres and service providers, This could potentially improve the support offered to participants and ensure those referred are suitable for the service.

What are we doing?

  • The Scottish Government is committed to the continuous improvement of our services. We have already reviewed and implemented changes to a number of areas that were highlighted in the first evaluation report[12]. Similarly, we have identified a number of actions around the participant experience, operational delivery and quality of service from this feedback and have included these in our Continuous Improvement Plan.
  • We will continue to work with providers to ensure that everyone who takes part in FSS feels supported through the entire process. In particular, we will consider the experience of those who have more complex support needs, and how we can ensure the service has sufficient flexibility in adapting the delivery model to suit the requirements of these participants.


Email: kirstie.corbett@gov.scot

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