Fair Start Scotland: evaluation report 4 - local area case studies - year 3

Part of the Fair Start Scotland series of evaluation reports which presents detailed findings from the third wave of local area case studies in in Fife, Motherwell and Inverclyde, incorporating feedback from FSS service providers, participants, and local delivery partners in these areas.

2. Year 3 Case Study - Fife

Fife sits within contract area 5 of Fair Start Scotland which covers the City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, Scottish Borders, West Lothian, and Fife. The Lead Provider for contract area 5 is Start Scotland Limited which is a partnership between The Lennox Partnership and Fedcap Employment Scotland. Start Scotland delivery is further supported by Triage Central Ltd and Working Links (Employment) Ltd as subcontractors and delivery partners. Until summer 2020, Momentum Scotland was also one of Start Scotland Limited’s delivery partners in the Scottish Borders, East Lothian and Midlothian. Following their closure, Triage Central Ltd[3] have taken on greater delivery roles within these three localities. When referring to this case study we are looking at Fair Start Scotland delivery provided to participants living across the Fife Council area.

Fife was chosen as a case study area to explore how delivery works in a large geographical area with varying degrees of rurality as well as the varying levels of deprivation across the area. The Scottish Borders was originally selected as a case study area for contract area 5 but with the recent change in delivery from Momentum to Triage it was felt that Fife would be able to provide more useful insights as it was based on an established delivery approach rather than a recent change of provider occurring at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The overall level of deprivation in Fife is similar to the national average. However, levels of deprivation are notably polarised, with some areas experiencing very low deprivation (e.g. St. Andrews) and others with most data zones in the top 10% most deprived in Scotland, including Methil, Leven and Kirkcaldy. Fife has the 13th highest rate of child poverty in Scotland, with 24% of children living in relative poverty after housing costs. Unemployment is slightly higher than the national average and low job density partly reflects high numbers of residents commuting out of Fife to work in neighbouring cities Dundee and Edinburgh, in addition to low labour market demand, particularly in mid-Fife and rural areas. While 74% of people in Fife reported they were satisfied with public transport in the most recent Scottish Household Survey, poor connectivity for those in mid-Fife and rural areas limits opportunities to access work in other areas within Fife and in neighbouring cities. The table below compares Fife to the Scottish average across deprivation, employment, job availability and transport. It draws on the most recent local authority labour market profile data unless otherwise stated. [4]

Fife Scotland
Deprivation summary Percentage data zones in 20% most deprived in Scotland[5] 20% 20%
Local Authority rank / 32 (data zones in 20% most deprived) 11 -
Percentage children living in child poverty[6] 24% 17%
Local Authority rank / 32 (child poverty) 13 -
Employment Unemployment rate 6.3% 4.4%
Claimant count (June 2021) 5.6% 5.2%
Percentage workless households 17.3% 17.7%
Job availability Working age population (16-64) 23,1800 -
Economically active 76% 77%
Percentage economically inactive who want a job 28% 23%
Job density 0.66 0.82
Transport Number of passenger train stations per 10,000 population 0.82 0.66
Percentage of adults reporting that they are very or fairly satisfied with public transport[7] 74% 68%

2.1 Service description

Fedcap Employment Scotland have been delivering Fair Start Scotland since the beginning of the service and brought on Triage Central Ltd in 2020 in order to increase participant numbers in Leven and Glenrothes. Between them they supported 330 participants in 2019/20 and 240 participants in 2020/21. The table below outlines the key Fair Start Scotland statistics across the last two years.

2019/20 2020/21
330 individuals participated in 2019/20 240 individuals participated in 2020/21
Participant profile 65% were male 60% were male
35% were female 40% were female
77% were disabled or had a health condition 63% were disabled or had a health condition
41% were under 35 years 64% were under 35 years
26% were between 35 and 49 22% were between 35 and 49
22% were over 50 14% were over 50
Job outcomes[8] 19% of all participants sustained work for 13 weeks 16% of all participants sustained work for 13 weeks
20% of men sustained work for 13 weeks 15% of men sustained work for 13 weeks
18% of women sustained work for 13 weeks 16% of women sustained work for 13 weeks
20% were disabled or had a health condition sustained work for 13 weeks 15% were disabled or had a health condition sustained work for 13 weeks
16% who were not disabled or had a health condition sustained work for 13 weeks 14% who were not disabled or had a health condition sustained work for 13 weeks
13% sustained work for 26 weeks 8% sustained work for 26 weeks

Start Scotland cover all geographies in Fife and recruit through referrals from Jobcentre Plus and third parties. They also take self-referrals, usually generated through social media. Triage deliver exclusively in the Leven and Glenrothes areas within Fife and recruit participants exclusively from referrals from Third Parties and self-referrals, mainly through social media.

The service from both Fedcap and Triage is structured as follows:

  • Referrals and self-referrals are received by an engagement team who contact the participant, explore the eligibility criteria, provide information on the service, and register the individual if appropriate
  • Participants are then allocated a key worker who works with them to set goals, access learning, address barriers and identify employment opportunities
  • When participants are ready to apply for jobs, the services’ employer engagement teams work with most participants to help them identify and apply for roles and support them through the recruitment processes such as interviews
  • Following placement in work, the in-work support team keeps in contact with participants to provide ongoing support as needed. In some cases, participants may request to stay with their original key worker rather than be passed onto the in-work support team.

Operational delivery findings

Fedcap reported that before the pandemic they had strong relationships with the local Jobcentres, were well known to Work Coaches, and were able to generate a good number of appropriate referrals. When the pandemic started, Jobcentre’s referrals reduced as Jobcentres reduced services and focused on responding to the increased number of Universal Credit client registrations. This reduction in referrals was also felt from third party referrals as organisations reduced or suspended services during the pandemic which also led to a large reduction in referrals. Both organisations reported that they had to shift their focus to recruiting participants through social media as a result.

Both organisations have reported huge success in social media recruitment and that while the pandemic prompted the increased focus on social media recruitment, they are intending to retain it for the remainder of the Fair Start Scotland service. Both organisations are trialling a range of different ways of reaching potential participants through social media including:

  • Advertising on existing Fife job search and other local community pages
  • Paid advertising on Facebook and other platforms
  • Trying a range of different messages in social media advertising for example, including a range of job advertisements that participants could access and promoting the range of support to find work that the organisations can offer.

Fedcap and Triage felt that Fair Start Scotland has been successful in attracting and supporting those with disabilities or health conditions, and those who have been out of work for extended periods of time. However staff also observed a shift in the needs of participants registering for Fair Start Scotland once the pandemic started. Following the pandemic, staff felt that a lot more participants were approaching the service after being made redundant after extended periods of employment and were job ready. They noted that many had been in employment for so long that they did not know how to find work and the support they required was less about removing barriers to employment, and more about supporting them through the job search and application processes. This was reinforced by interviews with participants who felt they had the skills to enter work but needed help in looking for jobs.

Staff also reported an increase in mental health concerns amongst participants that have required them to identify additional ways to support participants and access mental health support services as necessary. Staff were pleased that they were able to adapt the support provided by Fair Start Scotland to be able to meet the needs of this new participant group and credited the flexibility of the service and its delivery in being able to adapt to the changing needs.

Fife’s geographical size was noted to present challenges to service delivery in the area. Face-to-face delivery requires travel for both delivery staff and participants – for participants this can include long periods on public transport and for delivery staff high travel times between appointments. Fair Start Scotland provider staff in Fife noted that the remote, phone and online delivery needed during the pandemic has reduced some of these inefficiencies created by travel and has enabled key workers to provide more time directly supporting participants albeit at a distance.

Local Employability Landscape

Fife has a relatively well-developed set of employability services commissioned and coordinated by Opportunities Fife – the Local Employability Partnership in Fife. Opportunities Fife includes the Local Authority including representatives from employability and economic development, education and children’s services, and area managers who work with local communities, Skills Development Scotland, DWP, the Health and Social Care Partnership, NHS Fife from a public health perspective as well as corporate recruitment, the Developing the Young Workforce group, Fife Chamber of Commerce, and the Third Sector Interface Fife Voluntary Action. Opportunities Fife jointly plan provision in the area working together to identify and respond to local need. Around 70% of Opportunities Fife’s funding is used to externally commission third and community sector organisations to deliver, with the remaining 30% funding in-house Local Authority provision. A portion of this funding is European Structural Funding which means that many participants cannot be on Fair Start Scotland as well as provision funded by Opportunities Fife.

Provider’s staff in Fife noted that the well-established provision provided by Opportunities Fife and other third sector provision combined with the UK Government services such as Kickstart and employer grants makes attracting and supporting participants challenging as it felt like there was high competition in the area for participants. Provider staff identified that they did not work closely with Opportunities Fife.

“Landscape feels full and crowded and confusing for us as providers let alone for participants.” Provider

On the other hand stakeholders from Opportunities Fife felt that they had good working relationships with the Fair Start Scotland in the area and had often found ways to work together. However both Fair Start Scotland providers in Fife and Opportunities Fife noted that the double funding issue created by European Funding limited the amount of joint working that could occur as participants generally could not receive support from both Fair Start Scotland and Opportunities Fife funded provision.

One area that Opportunities Fife would be keen to see further engagement with Fair Start Scotland providers and Scottish Government is in sharing data around participant numbers and successful job outcomes.

“We hear good stories but we don’t see the numbers and don’t know how relative that is.” Opportunities Fife Stakeholders

They felt that increased sharing of information would enable them to plan their provision around Fair Start Scotland to ensure that they were focusing on those that were not being picked up by FSS. They also would like to be able to exchange job outcome information with Fair Start Scotland so that they can understand relative performance and learn from each other.

“When we recommissioned [our services], we considered how to fill gaps around Fair Start Scotland provision rather than duplicate it…. but we didn’t know how many people in Fife they were trying to support to inform our contracting…this is not about a single service… it is about working together better when appropriate…better understanding of local need and local provision.” Opportunities Fife Stakeholders

Employer engagement staff within Fair Start Scotland delivery in Fife voiced a concern that it was challenging to engage local employers to access roles for Fair Start Scotland participants due to the wide range of other local provision also approaching employers to find opportunities for their participants. Providers also noted that they were unable to offer support grants to businesses which made relationships with businesses harder to cultivate.

Virtual Service delivery

Both FSS providers noted that they were initially concerned about delivering the service virtually at the beginning of the pandemic in terms of accessibility because of digital exclusion and whether participants would enjoy and find virtual engagement useful. However, staff and participants reported that the virtual service delivery had worked much better than anticipated and had led to a range of service improvements that they would like to retain as part of a mixed approach once face-to-face engagement is resumed. The key findings around virtual service delivery are described below.

Staff and participants reported that participants liked virtual appointments as they were able to access them more easily without travelling and could have regular and shorter engagements with Fair Start Scotland staff when they need it – for example if someone is working through a training module or application process, they can get in touch via phone call or text to ask questions throughout. It also made it easier for staff to reach participants as they were able to give them a call at a time that suited them rather than arranging a single appointment and having participants miss out on support when they were unable to attend.

Staff noted the restrictions in face-to-face delivery from the pandemic have negatively affected the group work they offer. They noted that face-to-face group work was effective at reducing isolation and supporting participants to build social skills and feel comfortable in new and unknown situations. They reported that they are unable to replicate these benefits successfully in a virtual setting.

“The social element of group training is still important. The groups bonds and supports each other. That is missing at the moment, and we want to see that part of it come back.” Provider

Access to a large and varied amount of training and other support virtually was raised as a particular strength in the Fife case study area. FedCap have established a hub that all delivery in their contract areas can access. The hub has a wide range of live virtual training, online resources, and self-guided learning sessions that participants can access. In particular the virtual training available has increased in variety and provided more choice for participants as they do not have to wait for face-to-face training to come to their area to access it and FedCap can offer more specific and tailored training as it can draw on participants from across multiple contract areas to make the attendee numbers viable. The wider range of self-guided learning and resources has provided participants with more flexibility in terms of when they do their activity and paired with the availability of Fair Start Scotland staff over the phone and video call, they are able to access support to answer questions or provide advice as they work through the self-guided learning.

Digital exclusion including access to digital devices and connectivity was reported as a challenge, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic. Staff reported that they have spent time helping participants to access devices, internet connections and providing support to build their digital skills. They noted that the availability of devices and funding for connectivity was outstripped by demand and that additional resources were required to ensure digital exclusion was not a long-term issue with virtual delivery.

2.2 Lessons from this case study

The experience of delivery of Fair Start Scotland in Fife offers the following insights and lessons of relevance to employability provision in general:

  • Recruitment through social media can be a powerful way to reach participants if done well and can reduce the risk associated with relying on one or two referral sources.
  • A mixed model of delivery that has the flexibility to offer phone, digital and face-to-face engagement and support appears to offer a more tailored approach for participants while also being a more efficient method of delivery. However successful delivery and equitable access requires investment in addressing digital exclusion for participants. However the benefits associated with group work were regularly reported to suffer when the group work is not face-to-face – for example the indirect benefits associated with going into an unfamiliar location, engaging with people participants do not know. Therefore, a mixed approach feels desirable.
  • Providing choice and flexibility to participants is helped when services have access to a wider range of training and virtual resources. Virtually provided training and resources enable providers to offer a wider range of training and resources than is possible when delivery needs to be face-to-face in each location.
  • In-work support offered outside of traditional working hours appears to be more accessible for participants who may not be able to speak with staff during the working day.
  • An understanding and responsive commissioner was reported by the services to be key to being able to adapt the service to deliver within the pandemic. The relationship with Scottish Government (SG) and the pragmatic approach taken by SG was reported as a strength in the relationship between commissioner and contractor during this time.

“Scottish Government have been open to listening to changes, especially during the pandemic, and have been listening to us about what happens when we go back to normality. They have been keen to work with providers to come up with solutions. We have been involved in task and finish groups to identify changes and solutions.” Provider

Our field research in Fife identified other areas that were felt to be working well or less well in the design and delivery of Fair Start Scotland.

What Worked Well

  • The ethos of the service felt something that staff were proud to be part of – in particular the voluntary nature of the service, using a person-centred approach and the focus on those furthest from the labour market. Interviews with participants confirmed this, with one noting that Fair Start Scotland was “great, understood my needs, was sympathetic for what I could and could not do, I would recommend Fair Start Scotland to anyone looking for a job”.
  • The focus on in-work support was noted by providers, stakeholders, and participants as a strength of Fair Start Scotland as it recognised that finding someone a job was only part of the journey to ensuring someone retains and thrives in employment as well as vital to enable progression as a route out of in-work poverty.
  • Staff were positive about the flexibilities around the 3 hours meaningful contact time a week that have been introduced since the start of the pandemic and were keen that this be retained after pandemic restrictions end. It was felt by providers that this reduces the pressure on the participant and enables advisors to tailor their support to the individual’s need – e.g. some parents are able to do less during school holidays but more during school term, while others have health conditions that may mean they need to do less in some weeks and more in others. Being able to mix the 3 hours of time between virtual and in person engagement was suggested by staff as a way to provide more flexibility in the support they offer participants.

What Could Be Improved

  • The 16 hour a week job outcome felt arbitrary to staff as they felt it did not recognise the success that it can be for someone to secure a role that is less than 16 hours either as a step towards more hours, or as a suitable longer term role that meets their requirements. There is a concern that this leads to under representation of certain groups in the total outcome figures particularly those who are disabled, have a health condition, or caring responsibilities.
  • In an issue related to this staff reported they at times supported participants to find part time job while helping them enrol in further or higher education as a way to build their job prospects and ability to progress once in employment. However staff reported that doing this was costly for providers as they are unable to claim a job outcome payment for those also enrolled in education even if the person is also in work and receiving in-work support at the same time as participating in education.
  • There is concern amongst the providers that the increased emphasis SG has placed on improving representation of under-represented groups combined with expectations of higher participant numbers will prove challenging. Many of the under-represented groups identified require more intensive and specialist support than the existing profile of participants, requiring more time per participant and a corresponding change in staffing skillsets. While the focus on these groups is within the original focus of the programme (supporting those furthest from work), there is concern amongst providers that this combination of priorities may compromise the quality of service delivery overall.
  • Providers stated that the frequency of the monthly assessments that staff complete with each participant feels onerous. Staff would prefer quarterly assessments to reduce administrative burden and to enable meaningful progress to be identified and reported which can take longer than one month to see.


Email: Arfan.iqbal@gov.scot

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