Fair Start Scotland - evaluation report 3: local area case studies - year 2

Part of the Fair Start Scotland series of evaluation reports which presents detailed findings from the second wave of local area case studies in in Dundee, Fraserburgh and Peterhead, and Drumchapel, in north Glasgow, and includes feedback from FSS service providers, participants, and local delivery partners.

Executive Summary

This report presents the findings from our in-depth exploration with providers, partners and participants in localities in three Fair Start Scotland (FSS) contract areas - Drumchapel (Glasgow), Dundee (Tayside), and Peterhead and Fraserburgh (North East). This follows the focus last year on Alloa in Forth Valley, Irvine in South West, and Wick in Highlands and Islands.

The three areas provide a valuable contrast in terms of context:

  • Drumchapel - A deprived peripheral estate with high and sustained unemployment, few local jobs and a relatively costly and time-consuming journey into the jobs of central Glasgow.
  • Dundee - A compact city with a recent history of sustained high unemployment and deprivation but with a well-developed infrastructure of support and close partnership working across both employment and health.
  • Peterhead and Fraserburgh - Two towns with a narrow employment base set in a rural context and, again, with a relatively difficult and costly journey to the jobs of Aberdeen.

Many of our findings from our three detailed case study areas and participants interviews from year one still apply in terms of:

  • The value of the provider/s having a prior presence in the area and an extensive network of organisational and employer relationships
  • The primary importance of the experience and expertise of frontline staff, and their knowledge of the local labour market
  • The inability of the service - however well it performs in terms of effective personalised support - to help participants deal with fundamental local issues like limited job availability and transport difficulties.

However, this year has brought some additional findings, some which relate to it being a more mature service and some to the emerging context of Covid-19. Our analysis of the management information for the three areas reveals some important differences (overleaf).


164 individuals participated in 2019/ 20

  • 66% Male
  • 34% Female
  • 48% With disability or health condit ion
  • 37% < 35 years
  • 29% 35-49
  • 35% 50+
  • 10% Sustained work for 13 weeks
  • 6% of Men
  • 18% of Women
  • 9% of those with disability or health condition
  • 10% of those without
  • 5.5% of participants enrolled on the programme sustained work for 26 weeks

Despite the high incidence of issues around health and disability in the area, these figures show by far the lowest proportion of participants with a disability or health condition. The pattern also shows the lowest proportion of those under 35 years old.

The pattern of client characteristics in Drumchapel does not seem to match the profile of local need. This would be worth exploring in more detail.


682 individuals participated in 2019/ 20

  • 66% Male
  • 34% Female
  • 77% With disability or health condition
  • 49% < 35 years
  • 27% 35-49
  • 24% 50+
  • 21% Sustained work for 13 weeks
  • 21% of Men
  • 22% of Women
  • 22% of those with disability or health condition
  • 18% of those without
  • 13% of participants enrolled on the programme sustained work for 26 weeks

By far the largest by client numbers, and the highest proportion of those sustained in work - which may be related to the number and range of jobs available in Dundee. This may also explain the relatively high sustainability rates.

Peterhead and Fraserburgh

193 individuals participated in 2019/ 20

  • 61% Male
  • 39% Female
  • 78% With disability or health condition
  • 52% < 35 years
  • 13% 35-49
  • 27% 50+
  • 10% Sustained work for 13 weeks
  • 8% of Men
  • 12% of Women
  • 9% of those with disability or health condition
  • 11% of those without
  • 5.7% of participants enrolled on the programme sustained work for 26 weeks

A similar scale to Drumchapel but with a much higher incidence of disability and health conditions.

Our main findings are:

  • Overall, FSS continues to deliver a service which is valued by participants, who feel it has made a difference to them and helped them to get into work and sustain a job.
  • In our first detailed study in a peripheral estate - with its associated features of high and long term unemployment and related issues of poor mental and physical health, sometimes associated with alcohol and drug misuse - we found that FSS has become the main locally based provider of employability services, and its design features seem to have allowed it to respond effectively to the range of needs presented by participants.
  • In two of the areas, concerted efforts have been made to create a more strategic relationship between the FSS provision and the wider employability support service landscape. Despite both of these being pursued with energy and strategic clarity, neither has succeeded, mainly down to the way in which the application of double funding rules around European Structural Funds (ESF) are interpreted.
  • Despite this work, relationships between Lead Providers and Local Authorities remain difficult. Although the impact of these weak relationships is reduced by the fact that in most areas 'there are more than enough clients to go round' there remains the fundamental issue that a separately procured service that is driven by outcome funding is likely to attract mistrust in terms of the way in which clients are reached and recruited.
  • On the other hand, compared with last year, we saw evidence of a marked improvement in the quality of the relationships with Jobcentre Plus. There are regular incidences of close working relationships developing between JCP work coaches and FSS front line staff, consultation about the appropriateness of referrals, and the presence of FSS staff in Jobcentres - sometimes carrying out 'warm handovers' alongside work coaches. This has been reflected in increases in referral numbers from JCP, though Third Party Organisation (TPO) referrals and self-referrals have also been increasing.
  • There are signs that, over time, the design of FSS and the design of other local employability services are converging, since both draw on good practice and are underpinned by the principles established by the Scottish Government. While this may help in the evolution of the No One Left Behind (NOLB) Approach,[1] in the short term it is creating some issues about the distinction between services and difficulties that clients may have in distinguishing them.
  • There is strong support for the principles of No One Left Behind, and the action that is following in terms of the allocation of funding through local authorities. In at least two of the areas there is a strong Local Employability Partnership (LEP) and there is general agreement that the coherence and collaboration that can be driven by the LEP will be a key contributor to the success of NOLB.

Lessons for the future

  • The context for FSS in 2020/21 will be fundamentally changed by the impact of Covid-19. This will affect the character of FSS, the scale of demand, and the likelihood of achieving sustainable outcomes. In practice, while FSS may retain its key design features and principles, it may also need to become quite a different service. This means that the evaluation of FSS next year will need to take these potential changes into account. While it would still be appropriate to cover the remaining three contract areas, it will be important to focus on how, in each of these areas, the service has been able to respond to a very different economic context, how the service has evolved over the third year, and what the lessons are for the focus and delivery of the service over the subsequent 2 years.
  • Local partners are clear that No One Left Behind provides a sound basis for the evolution of national and local employability funding and services to create a more coherent and comprehensive local employability service in each area. The presence on the LEP of Lead Providers in two of the areas we have looked at has enhanced mutual awareness and understanding but has not been enough to create strategic coherence. Although the element of ESF in programmes / services has got in the way of developing more collaborative and complementary local approaches it is hard to avoid the conclusion from our evaluation that any separately procured national service will always struggle with gaining local support unless it is fully owned by the LEP.
  • However, it will be important that demanding outcome-based funding is not lost in this evolution. Central to the success of the No One Left Behind approach will be retaining some of the important features of FSS: accountability, in the case of LEPs for delivery against outcome targets, and ensuring that LEPs have the information and structures they need to actively manage the performance of the different funding streams, and identify and act on weak points and poor performance.

Recommendations for this FSS contract

Many of the issues we identified for our recommendations in Year 1 were not mentioned this year. The administrative system now appears to be working well - though there remain some concerns about how much time it absorbs.

We recommend that the Scottish Government:

  • Reviews the current provision of effective start up support and funding for FSS participants who want to become self-employed and/or start a business - the current provision does not appear to be meeting the need for both intensive support and appropriate start-up funding. This may become even more important as the economy recovers from the impact of Covid-19 and self-employment options may become more appealing in the absence of more conventional jobs.
  • Reviews the guidance about the ability of clients to leave and return to the service that go beyond the current 'freeze' option. This may be particularly valuable in the context of the impact of Covid-19 and the problems that may be caused by an unpredictable recovery period which may require local responses to infection spikes and related issues in terms of caring responsibilities and job insecurity.
  • Revisits the issues that seem to have prevented more aligned local approaches between local employability services and FSS. Local partners felt that they had considered the implications of ESF carefully and come up with approaches that would be entirely conforming with ESF requirements, but that they had not gained approval to proceed.

Year 3 will be dominated by the impact of Covid-19. What this means is that there will need to be clarity about the role of FSS alongside Jobcentre Plus. Although as some providers admitted "it is now possible to justify the referral of almost anyone onto FSS ", there are a range of risks around the delivery of FSS in 2020/21:

  • There may be demands on the service from relatively short term unemployed people for whom the main issue will be a lack of jobs rather than any particular barriers to work.
  • Those further from work (i.e. the core client group for FSS) will be in even greater need of intensive support to become competitive in the labour market and - depending on the length of the recession - it may make sense to link FSS support more strongly to follow up intensive vocational training to make good use of the time and enable participants to enter the labour market at a higher skill level, with associated benefits in terms of job satisfaction, pay and sustainability.
  • One of the striking lessons from the lockdown period has been the success of focused and well managed Facebook marketing and we recommend that the Scottish Government reflect on the implications of this more widely for the marketing of employability services and the implications in terms of how to link this with national marketing to reach those who could most benefit from support.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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