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.
6 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.
This year we explored the role and impact of FSS in three very different areas:
Drumchapel is the first of Scotland's peripheral estates where we have examined the role and impact of FSS. There are clear indications that FSS has become the main - though by no means sole - local provider of employability support, and that its combination of a local presence in the Jobcentre, a personalised and tailored service, and a voluntary engagement has proved appealing to local participants. A particularly interesting feature of the FSS service in Drumchapel is the way that it focuses on helping participants start to connect to the wider Glasgow job market, with initial support in Drumchapel leading to follow up support in neighbouring Clydebank. It is hoped that this short journey may help participants to become comfortable travelling more widely to work, and particularly to the substantial job market in the centre of Glasgow.
There is a strong working relationship with the local Jobcentre, with the FSS key worker being based there one day a week. Warm handovers take place in the Jobcentre offices. However, more widely, it is fair to say that, while there is a general sense that there are more than enough clients for all providers, there appears to be no coherent local provision in Drumchapel, in terms of clarity about respective roles and the effective use of specialist local provision for those who most need it.
In Dundee there is a well-developed strategic approach to the local delivery of employability services, with an active LEP driving a coherent approach to tackling the significant and long lasting unemployment issues in the city, and committed to the creation of a collaborative 'Local Employability Service'. The intention is that this will provides clarity to both individuals and employers about where to go for what kind of support, and what they will receive. A serious mutual effort has been made by the two key players (i.e. the Lead Provider and Dundee City Council) to agree complementary roles and how they can both work together to contribute to this overarching model, but it has not been possible to work this out in practice, mainly to do with difficulties about ESF funding and the risk of double funding.
A similar effort has been made in Aberdeenshire, which would have created a much clearer relationship between the services provided by the LEP partners and the Lead Provider and would have clarify respective roles in Peterhead and Fraserburgh. In this case the concept was that all the main providers (not just Jobcentre Plus) would refer appropriate clients to FSS (i.e. those who required more intensive, long term support which would need to continue into work), and they in turn would both pick up those who may drop out of FSS, or reach the end of the service without finding a job. As with Drumchapel there is a view that the practical impact of this failure is reduced because there are plenty of clients for all the providers to play an effective role.
It is notable that all the relationships in these three very different areas have been underpinned by a mutual recognition (i.e. by both FSS staff and the staff of other key providers) about the quality of the design of their respective services, and that front line staff are experienced and committed and delivering a high quality service for clients.
Particularly notable is the improved relationship between Jobcentre Plus and FSS providers. Close working relationships are now the norm, and in all areas the relationships is growing stronger and this has led to increasing referrals. FSS staff are welcomed into Jobcentres and often have a part time base there, both to talk to potential participants about what FSS involves and in some cases (but not all) supporting a warm handover. There is clear evidence of growing awareness of FSS and appropriate referrals among work coaches.
Alongside these strengthening relationships with Jobcentre Plus have been increasing referrals through the TPO and self-referral route. In some areas the TPO referral rate has been relatively high from the start - mainly because of the prior presence of the FSS provider, with well-developed local relationships and trust (as we saw in some areas in last year's visits). But FSS providers have been working hard to build relationships with a wider range of organisations - both as providers of specialist services and as a source of referrals.
More generally we have identified the following findings:
- There is a clear disconnect in some areas between both the different levels of relationships and between the experience of clients and the engagement of local partners. In some areas there is a very poor or weak working relationship between Local Authorities and the Lead Provider. Sometimes the relationship is stronger between front line staff, and on the whole there is a widespread recognition in each area that front line staff are able and experienced and doing a good, committed job. This is also reflected in the experience of clients - which is on the whole positive, and this is consistent across the areas.
- At the strategic level, the quality of the relationship is underpinned in some areas by a lack of trust between Local Authorities delivering a public service, and providers who are providing a target driven service. This lack of trust lies in the behaviours that this outcome funding model can encourage - in other words, a fear or a perception that such providers will seek to maximise their client base and will need to claim the outcomes, and that this may both reduce their own client base and may not be in the best interests of the client. We heard stories about FSS providers 'hoovering up' clients.
- This issue can be reinforced by a convergence between the design features and principles of FSS and those of local programmes. Since the design of FSS drew on extensive reviews of good practice in terms of its key features and principles, there is growing evidence that these features are shared with local programmes that also wish to draw on good practice. In the medium terms this will be helpful in terms of the evolution of the No One Left Behind framework, but in the short term it can create confusions among clients and some partners in terms of the distinction between programmes.
- This issues of a lack of agreed strategic approaches extend to employer engagement. In all three areas the different services go about their employer engagement activities in a way that is not coordinated with other local employer engagement approaches. This is in part down the choices made by employers - they have a trusted relationship with a FSS provider (sometimes going back to a time before FSS) or to a particular individual now involved in FSS. Sometimes it is about the creation of national relationships that FSS Lead Providers have agreed with major employers which works out into preferred local engagements. However, despite this, we heard stories of the exchange of vacancies that FSS could not fill (and vice versa) - in other words, there are some genuinely employer driven behaviours being displayed.
- In many areas the quality of the FSS service is undermined by local constraints on the outcomes that can be achieved. These constraints cannot be dealt with just by providing a high quality service - they include a lack of local jobs, and difficult and expensive and inconvenient public transport to nearby city labour markets (e.g. Aberdeen in the case of Peterhead and Fraserburgh, and Glasgow in the case of Drumchapel). These issues can condemn FSS clients to insecure and poorly paid local work with little scope for progression, but we did hear examples of participants who had been helped to learn to drive or get bus passes.
- Sometimes the transport issue is underpinned by a reluctance to travel outside a home area for work - notably in Drumchapel - with the provider seeking to tackle this but encouraging participants to travel initially a short distance outside the area in order to get face to face support and become more confident about travelling more widely.
- The employment landscape - both now and well into the future - has clearly been transformed by the impact of Covid-19, with a sudden switch from historically high employment rates to increasing rates of unemployment, that are expected to increase further with the end of the Job Retention Scheme. FSS clients are responding in different ways - some have given up looking for work, others are devoting themselves to caring duties, while others are still keen to work and are picking up opportunities: these started as supermarket retail, security, warehousing and delivery during the emergency phase of the crisis, but are now broadening out as the economy slowly recovers.
- It is clear from our discussions (and confirmed by the client feedback) that FSS staff on the ground have gone out of their way to keep in touch with participants during the very difficult lock down period and this has made a difference to their state of mind and motivation. One of the most striking features of the lockdown period, and the stopping of all referrals from JCP as they focused on Universal Credit registration, has been the success of some providers in putting a very professional Facebook marketing approach in place. In some cases this has completely replaced previous JCP referral numbers, and this is a real success story with significant implications for the marketing of employability programmes in the future.
The client feedback has generated a wide range of very positive feedback, focusing on:
- The service's comprehensive and tailored approach
- The caring, respectful, and supportive key workers
- Key workers' knowledge of the local job market and vacancies
- The holistic support offered
- The voluntary nature of the support.
Although not common, so issues and challenges were identified from our interviews with clients:
- The extent to which FSS was appropriate for some particular client groups - notably graduates and older people. The latter may require some staff development work as a small number of older people felt that key workers had not been able to help them.
- Recurring issues - at a small scale - with the appropriateness of some referrals from JCP. There were still reports of people referred by JCP not being aware of the voluntary nature of FSS and not being motivated to take part. This also begs another issue about how JCP and FSS can work together to help to enhance motivation in potential participants.
- Ensuring that there was the right 'fit' between participants and key workers. We heard a few examples of where this important relationship had not been right - but in all cases a change of key worker had produced a more successful working relationship.
- The role and significance of start up support as part of FSS remains unclear. In one of the areas we studied - Peterhead and Fraserburgh - the delivery partners included Enterprise Mentoring, a high performance start-up support agency who were one of the award winners in the recently completely Health and Work Unit Challenge Fund. Their experience is that:
- In most areas, FSS providers draw on Business Gateway to support clients who want to set up in business/self-employment, but Business Gateway are unable to provide the intensive support that FSS participants are likely to require.
- The New Enterprise Allowance offers £1,274 additional funding to individuals entering self-employment, but offers very little one-to-one mentoring support. At the moment, FSS participants can't draw on this Allowance.
What this means is that FSS participants who want to pursue a self-employment option can't combine the intensive support that can be offered as part of FSS (e.g. by Enterprise Mentoring in North East and West) with EAS and so they are tempted to prefer the EAS route which is then unable to provide the intensity of support that they may need.
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. The evaluation of FSS next year will need to take these 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 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 this 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.
However, 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.
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