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.

6. Lessons Learned Across Three Years

This chapter draws together our lessons learned from across all 9 case studies from the past 3 years as well as from our Scotland-wide evaluation work with key SG and DWP national stakeholders in Year 3. We break these findings down into:

  • Conclusions about the overall performance of FSS
  • Conclusions about operational delivery
  • Articulating lessons for the future including the two-year extension to Fair Start Scotland and lessons for No One Left Behind and other provision in the future.

6.1 Impact and performance

Fair Start Scotland is the first devolved national employability service and it was designed and implemented in a very short period of time. Over its first 3 years it operated in a context of extremes with the service being launched in the context of record levels of employment and a consequently tight labour market whilst Year 3 was dominated by the impact of Covid-19, with Jobcentre Plus pivoting to a focus on new Universal Credit registrations, and many of the usual job opportunities in retail and hospitality disappearing.

Against this background the view of most stakeholders was that the performance of Fair Start Scotland was positive in terms of the quality of the service and experience that participants received. It was felt that a new ethos of a voluntary national service had been established, with a clear focus on sustainable work for those further from work. Stakeholders felt that Fair Start Scotland had an ability to flex services in its contract areas to respond to local demand (in terms of both the demography and distribution of unemployment and the profile of employment). It was however also noted by stakeholders that the service fell short of its ambition to support 38,000 participants.

While there has been disappointment about overall levels of performance in relation to the original ambition, there is agreement that some elements of service delivery have worked very well.

“For people closer to market probably it does what it needs to do and the outcomes are pretty good, but for those with more profound barriers does not provide the depth of support needed.” Scottish Government Stakeholder

There was a sense that there had been an over-reliance on Jobcentre Plus for referrals. The expected levels of referrals had not materialised, and providers needed to rapidly escalate their engagement with third sector referrers and others to get close to their expected client referral numbers. The recent increase in unemployment led to a surge of Jobcentre Plus referrals but it was felt that the service remains vulnerable to changes in Jobcentre Plus priorities – and this increase in unemployment has been accompanied by a wide range of alternative support such as Kickstart and JETS. Therefore, there is a strong sense that there should be a continued focus on generating third party referrals over the remainder of the 2-year extension period left for FSS delivery.

It was also noted that there is particular anxiety about the performance in relation to those furthest from work and with under-represented groups. For those furthest from work, stakeholders recognised that they had underestimated the issues around supporting those with multiple and complex needs and the Individual Placement and Support (IPS)[24] approach had not been successfully integrated into the Fair Start Scotland approach:

“... this was not sufficient. Fair Start Scotland can only go so far. IPS and supported employment may be levers – but the take up of these offers has not been particularly high.” Scottish Government Stakeholder

There is now a lot of work going on which is exploring the issues around those with multiple barriers.

“We are now looking at this. Have we got the promotion right? Are providers reaching out to these people – they are not necessarily in Jobcentres every month or week so they are not getting the referral pathways. There are people who could benefit from IPS and supported employment and Fair Start Scotland providers have enhanced their own third party referrals – but it needs much more embedded relationships.” Scottish Government Stakeholder

As a result of performance that was below expectations with regards to under-represented groups - those in minority ethnic groups, care experience young people and those with convictions, there has been action taken to correct this. It was seen as being related to a low level of capacity and knowledge about how to engage with and effectively support these groups.

In response to this particular area, the Scottish Government has commissioned racial equality training and disability diversity awareness training which Fair Start Scotland providers were able to access:

“We are now seeing providers who are clearer about how to engage with these groups, how they like to receive messages, what their preferred approaches are, and they are giving work coaches the underpinning skills and confidence that can engage in appropriate way. There is now some evidence of greater participation.” Scottish Government Stakeholder

Similarly, there is a growing focus on much more specific targeting:

“We set up Fair Start Scotland in response to long term unemployment. But ...it is lacking connections to housing, health, and criminal justice. So it is doing what it set out to do but it is quite narrow.” Scottish Government Stakeholder

A final aspect of overall performance is the high level of those leaving the service early and understanding the outcomes of those who did not make progress into a job. There is a recognition that the issue of high numbers of early leavers is not fully understood – similarly, the long-term journey of those who did not find work needs to be explored in more detail. Linked to this is the issue of non-job-related outcomes that could be positive and effective for a client – again, this is an area which needs further exploration. In the absence of data around this area it is likely that the full impact of Fair Start Scotland is being under-estimated.

“We don’t understand the level of people who left before their time is up. They have just disengaged. From April this year we have created a restart ability. We should have done this a long time ago...We want to dig with these people – why did they disengage?” Scottish Government Stakeholder

6.2 Operational findings

This section outlines our findings in relation to the operation of Fair Start Scotland including its design and the way it is being implemented.

6.2.1 Fair Start Scotland is valued for its person-centred approach and voluntary nature

Fair Start Scotland staff, participants and stakeholders agreed that a strength of Fair Start Scotland was its ethos of being person centred. It was felt that this made Fair Start Scotland different from other services. The principles of dignity and respect are now embedded, and it is clear from participant feedback that this experience is near universal. There is a recognition that how the service has been delivered is as important as the design of the service itself and the voluntary nature of the service has been an important driver of this. We identified a high degree of pride amongst Fair Start Scotland providers that they were part of something that was going to help people and was better than what had been previously provided. There is now a degree of brand recognition and it is seen as a credible service.

In particular, the following features were identified as important in achieving the ethos behind Fair Start Scotland:

  • Its voluntary nature which was seen as an important building block of ensuring participants felt respected and were treated with dignity
  • The year long support[25] which enabled participants with multiple and complex barriers to move into employment that was right for them and that they were able to sustain
  • The explicit in-work support component that was felt recognised that finding a job was only the first step and that retaining a job and thriving in employment required ongoing support
  • The tailored and comprehensive nature of the support provided by caring and dedicated staff
  • The focus on sustainable outcomes and in-work support – in other words the focus is not helping participants into any job, but a job which provides them with sustainable employment and ideally a platform for further progression in terms of responsibility, skills and pay

Our evaluation identified a range of areas that were felt to reduce the extent to which the service was able to be flexible and tailored to individual needs. It was not uncommon for Fair Start Scotland staff to report that they felt this ran contrary to the intention and ethos of the service:

  • The 16 hours a week needed to achieve a job outcome which was felt not to recognise that this was not appropriate for all participants, especially those with health conditions, disabilities or caring responsibilities
  • The requirements about frequency and content of engagement with participants – for example the number of hours of engagement per week, the requirement for this to be face-to-face (pre-pandemic), and the frequency of the monthly reviews - which were felt to put in place a structure that participants had to engage with rather than being able to structure an engagement to best suit each participant

There were some particularly useful insights into the voluntary nature of the service identified by the evaluation. The voluntary nature of the service was identified as a strength of Fair Start Scotland in every case study area by delivery staff, participants, and stakeholders including Jobcentre staff. Those we spoke to felt that this ensured that resources were invested in people who were less likely to leave the service early and contributed to an environment where participants were more comfortable as they felt more in control of their participation. However, it is important to point out that in many of the contract areas, many of the existing local employability services are, and always have been voluntary, so it is only in terms of national services that this feature represents a break from the past.

We noted a general feeling amongst Fair Start Scotland staff and participants that sometimes the voluntary nature of the service was not always well understood, with staff reporting that participants can often be unaware it was voluntary when being referred by the Jobcentre. Staff also reported that, in some cases, while participants knew the service was voluntary, they still felt they had to be there due to fear that their Jobcentre Plus Work Coach may put in place benefit sanctions should they not engage with Fair Start Scotland.

“The conversion of [Jobcentre Plus] referrals to Contract Entrant can be challenging in comparison to [Third Party Organisation] referrals.” Provider

Fair Start Scotland’s voluntary nature is trying to do something different from the experience of many participants in the past. Given many participants access Fair Start Scotland through Jobcentre referrals it is unsurprising that the message that the service is voluntary can get lost as a result of their experience with other services and fear of sanctions. It is clear that even a voluntary service can feel like a mandatory service to participants when it is operating within an environment of many mandatory services and benefit sanctions. Ongoing efforts to implement the Scottish Government’s vision of an employability service landscape that is centred on dignity and respect are likely to help shift this impression amongst participants.

6.2.2 The relationship between Scottish Government and providers was consistently reported as being positive, open and trusting.

There has been a strong move away from a conventional provider/commissioner relationship – both Scottish Government and providers speak of the effective partnership working, the focus on highly collaborative continuous improvement with its emphasis on understanding issues, learning from them and amending aspects of service requirements to enable change.

Across all our case study areas, providers reported strong working relationships with Scottish Government. They felt that Scottish Government’s approach was flexible, open, pragmatic, and in this way different from the relationships they have had with many commissioners in the past. They felt that this approach by Scottish Government built a trusted relationship which enabled them to feel like they could work together to make services better through changes and improvements during the contract period. The flexibility around participants disengaging and re-engaging was a commonly cited example of this relationship during our Year 3 case studies.

“The relationship with Scottish Government staff and the way they worked with providers was fantastic – they definitely listen and take things on board and try to change things as required.” Provider

However, the contractual nature of the funding model meant that, despite a recognition from the Scottish Government that there needed to be a range of flexibilities and changes introduced, it was only possible to make some of these.

“Because it was a contracted service, there was not [always] the flexibility to make the changes needed. If we had had more flex in the contract, we could have redesigned elements e.g. we missed a trick in terms of non-job outcomes and then Covid.” Scottish Government Stakeholder

6.2.3 The relationship between Fair Start Scotland and Jobcentre Plus has been central to the performance of the service

There is a general feeling amongst DWP stakeholders and Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches we engaged with that the relationships with both Scottish Government and Fair Start Scotland providers were positive, open, and strong. It was also noted by DWP stakeholders that the engagement with Scottish Government about Fair Start Scotland had opened up the relationships between the two parties to discuss a wider employability agenda beyond Fair Start Scotland.

It was generally felt by DWP/Jobcentre Plus staff that Fair Start Scotland was a quality service option for many of their customers and that where issues had arisen, they had been addressed openly and quickly by Scottish Government and/or the provider.

“We have seen an increase in the number of customers. So to me that is confirming that the programme is worthwhile, giving us what we are looking for, customers are benefitting from it.” DWP Stakeholder

Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches surveyed generally felt they had a strong understanding of Fair Start Scotland and a commitment to making the service a success. 93% of Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches responding to our survey agreed or strongly agreed that they were clear about what Fair Start Scotland is trying to achieve. 90% of Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches agreed or strongly agreed that they felt committed to making Fair Start Scotland a success. 22% of Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches disagreed that they had a good understanding of Fair Start Scotland, with references to a lack of information flowing from Fair Start Scotland staff to Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches, and the challenge of virtual engagement as a result of the pandemic.

76% of Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches indicated through our survey that they agreed that they work well with their local provider representative. When asked what was working well, a few of these respondents provided the following comments:

“Good communication between provider and Jobcentre.” Work Coach, DWP

34% of Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches surveyed reported challenges in encouraging people to take part in Fair Start Scotland identifying issues such as Covid-19 restrictions, the non-mandatory nature of the service, language barriers and travel issues. When asked what was working well at encouraging people to take part in Fair Start Scotland, a few provided further detail, stating, for example, that:

“It is tailored to individual needs.” Work Coach, DWP

Despite the positive reviews of Fair Start Scotland from DWP/Jobcentre Plus staff, we identified a misaligned expectation between DWP, Scottish Government and Fair Start Scotland providers about the proportion of Fair Start Scotland referrals that would come from Jobcentres as well as the way criteria were being interpreted when determining whether someone was suitable for Fair Start Scotland.

The general view from DWP and Jobcentres is that Fair Start Scotland is one of many quality provisions available to their customers and they need to find the right provision to refer customers to.

“There is so much choice, so much provision, so many organisations wanting to help our customer groups.” DWP Stakeholder

Providers generally feel that the number of referrals received from the Jobcentres was not what was expected and there were concerns that other provision in the areas were being unfairly prioritised over Fair Start Scotland. The pressures around referral numbers were further exacerbated when referrals stopped altogether during the early stages of the pandemic while Jobcentre Plus staff needed to focus on processing new registrations for Universal Credit as unemployment rose.

The relationship between Fair Start Scotland and Jobcentres is complex and in many areas of Scotland has considerable room for improvement. However, there is now a recognition of the risks of over-reliance on Jobcentre Plus referrals and this has placed a growing emphasis on engaging with third parties to attract as many referrals as possible from alternative sources. Getting the balance right between Jobcentre Plus and third-party referrals is likely to be an ongoing challenge during the extension of Fair Start Scotland, and for future services as part of No One Left Behind.

6.2.4 There is still much to do to create a more integrated employability service in Scotland

Fair Start Scotland was intended to be a first step towards a more integrated and seamless employability service across Scotland. In many of the case study areas we explored, Fair Start Scotland was set up in areas where there were already well-established employability services run by local authorities and/or third sector organisations. It was uncommon for the contract for Fair Start Scotland to be held by the dominant pre-existing organisations who were funded by other sources – the only example of this was in Forth Valley (contract area 4 from Year 1’s case study in Alloa) where the delivery of Fair Start Scotland is run by the Local Authority who are the main employability providers in the area.

Where providers already had well established networks of support services and sub-contractors, access to employers and relationships with public sector organisations, there were fewer issues around referrals, competition and accessing support for participants. This reinforces the importance of integrated and aligned service delivery within employability services in Scotland.

The way Fair Start Scotland is structured, and the way it is being delivered in most of the case study areas we explored has not resulted in a high degree of local alignment or cohesion. Instead, Fair Start Scotland appears to be another of many providers in most localities, with services feeling they are in competition with each other for Jobcentre referrals and participant self-referrals.

“We have not got relationship with Local Authorities to a place where the service could fly.” Provider

“Fair Start has not met our ambitions in terms of alignment with local activity. This includes relationships with local authorities, the lack of integration and alignment – and the lack of local ownership as part of local offer.” Scottish Government Stakeholder

Where Fair Start Scotland has been introduced into areas with already well-established and well-connected services providers have struggled more with getting referrals. This is particularly felt in areas such as North Lanarkshire where the pre-existing services already focus on long term unemployed participants and those furthest from the labour market, and services are voluntary, and support is long term – making it very hard for Fair Start Scotland to differentiate itself.

We identified a number of relationships between local authorities, employability providers and Jobcentres that will need to improve if service alignment is increased. It was not uncommon for the competitive bidding process for winning Fair Start Scotland delivery contracts to have contributed to worsening relationships where Fair Start Scotland providers need to engage with organisations who bid for but did not win a Fair Start Scotland contract.

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 delivering a target driven outcome funded service for a private sector owner. 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 participant base and will need to claim the outcomes, and that this may both reduce their own participant base and may not be in the best interests of the participant.

The extent to which services locally are able to act as partners instead of competitors is further inhibited by the funding criteria where ESF funding means that Fair Start participants are unable to also receive support from a range of other services while being registered with Fair Start Scotland. While this issue of double funding exists, integration and alignment of services will be extremely difficult.

There are two other aspects to the development of a genuinely integrated local employability service:

  • The engagement with specialist support services (e.g. mental health, debt management, counselling, addiction services) and with services that engage with priority clients (e.g. housing, health and criminal justice
  • The creation of a local form of governance with the information and intelligence it needs to actively manage performance and tackle weak areas of service.

What has been possible for Fair Start Scotland to achieve in these areas has proved to be very limited. Some multi-service providers have been able to call on other in-house specialisms (e.g. in the area of mental health) to provide specialist support to Fair Start participants but on the whole what we have heard is that the hoped for links with specialist third sector providers have not happened at the scale or with the range needed. This has been put down to the relatively limited scale of funding available, or to unrealised expectations that local specialist providers may be able to offer this kind of support free of charge. Similarly, we have come across no examples of well-developed relationship with housing, health, and criminal justice services on the ground – even in the contract area where Fair Start was led by 3 local authorities. Related to this has been the disappointment that Fair Start has not made the links it that were anticipated with health and local third sector organisations, and the lack of anything new or innovative in terms of engagement with the third sector.

There are limited examples of Fair Start Providers playing a meaningful and influential role in a local governance structure – there are a some examples of a provider being invited to join a Local Employability Partnership or a local third sector provider forum, but we are not aware of examples of this leading to more integrated action or performance management.

This issue of a lack of agreed strategic approaches extends to employer engagement. In all three areas we examined this year, 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 to the choices made by employers – they have a trusted relationship with a Fair Start Scotland provider (sometimes going back to a time before Fair Start Scotland) or to a particular individual now involved in Fair Start Scotland.

6.2.5 The virtual delivery adopted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has provided valuable insight into a future mixed model

Fair Start Scotland providers that we spoke to in years 2 and 3 following the onset of Covid-19 all reported that they were initially nervous and worried about delivering a service virtually. However, all providers also reported that they had found delivering a virtual service worked surprisingly well and they were all keen to see a mixed model in the future that enabled them to retain the benefits of virtual delivery while being able to pick back up face-to-face delivery for the elements that needed it.

Recruitment through social media was a significant revelation amongst providers who all reported success in attracting participants through advertising on Facebook including paid advertising and advertising on pre-existing local pages to reach potential participants. Different providers had invested to different degrees in their social media efforts with Fife particularly reporting success with it following a period of sustained effort and trialling new ways of promoting the service.

While providers often noted that social media success was probably in part due to more people being on social media more often during lockdowns, all reported that they would be continuing recruitment through social media as it provided a powerful way to diversify the risk away from over-reliance on referrals from Jobcentre Plus and was much more efficient and effective than fostering the relationships with other organisations to create third party referrals.

Virtual appointments replaced the face-to-face weekly appointments that participants had with Fair Start Scotland prior to the pandemic. These were offered as phone appointments or video calls. Providers and participants consistently reported that the introduction of virtual appointments has been a powerful way to provide a more tailored and efficient service for participants and is something they would like to see retained following the end of pandemic restrictions.

The emphasis on virtual delivery created a need for providers to invest in virtual training and resources so that participants could access training and information online easily and to a high quality. Start Scotland who are a provider across several Fair Start Scotland contract areas invested particularly heavily in a wide range of training materials and as a result the staff in Fife reported that they were able to offer participants training with less delay – instead of waiting for a particular training service to come to Fife, it was able to be run more frequently as the participant numbers across the various contract areas would enable sessions to reach the critical mass required. The critical mass able to be achieved across contract areas also supported the production of more specialist and specific training and resources so participants had a much wider range of training available to them and could find something more specific to their needs.

One area that staff across all case study areas were keen to see return to face-to-face was some of the group work. While providers identified that a lot of training could be delivered virtually, ensuring there is always a component of face-to-face group work was key for a number of reasons. Participants attended group activities for a wide range of reasons, but staff reported that the real benefits of group activities was often to reduce social isolation, support participants to develop their interpersonal and team work skills, and to become comfortable in new and unknown situations. All of which built skills needed for employment and all of which are difficult to replicate virtually according to Fair Start Scotland staff we spoke to.

Digital exclusion was identified as a key issue to making virtual working possible, fair, and accessible. This included access to digital devices, access to a stable and affordable connection to the internet, and confidence and knowledge around using digital technologies and services digitally. Providers reported that they have been working with participants to access devices, ensure connectivity, and support participants to learn how to engage using these devices. All providers we spoke to in Year 3 said that the number of devices available were generally outstripped by demand by a large margin which hindered their ability to ensure participants could engage during lockdown. We also noted that support to confidently and knowledgably engage virtually and digitally was a struggle for some participants. Participants who previously would have accessed devices at houses of their friends and family, or in community venues were now unable to do so.

We know that some participants received devices and access to a Wi-Fi connection through other services, for example Scottish Government’s Connecting Scotland service. We consider that there may be a case for stronger and more intentional links between Fair Start and other services to address gaps of this nature.

6.2.6 Future services need to balance accountability and quality control with proportionate administrative processes, reporting and funding criteria

With any service there is the need to balance the accountability associated with public funding and ensure quality standards are being met. Doing this will always require reporting and administrative processes, all of which take time and resources to adhere to.

With reference to such reporting Fair Start Scotland providers regularly reported that they felt that:

  • The administrative processes associated with being compliant were too onerous and detracted from time spent with participants. We identified a sense of fear and frustration around getting administrative processes right because mistakes in administration meant that the provider was unable to claim for payments
  • The reporting requirements in place were too extensive and specific which limited providers’ abilities to adapt and tailor the service to meet participant’s needs

Providers consistently reported that they were impressed with how open Scottish Government were to talk about and review administrative processes but overall felt that this willingness did not always translate into timely action. Providers reported that they felt like the information Scottish Government was requesting from them grew over time, and often with short timeframes to deliver newly requested data and information. Providers identified a number of examples of where changes had been made that were positive – for example being able to re-register someone from the service who left the service early previously – but we found that many of the challenges reported in our year 1 case studies were still being reported in our Year 3 case studies. In particular:

  • The level of information that needs to be collected and uploaded to monitoring systems to meet Scottish Government reporting requirements was consistently reported as being onerous
  • The 16 hour a week requirement for being able to claim a job outcome was felt by providers to undervalue the achievement that a job with less hours represented for some participants and did not recognise that for some they were unable to work more than 10 or 12 hours a week (for example), due to health conditions, disability or caring responsibilities. Providers were worried that the outcomes reported under-represented certain groups performance as a result
  • The inability to claim a job outcome for someone enrolled in education or training. Providers reported that often they supported participants to pick up part-time work and enrol in education or training part time as a way to support them to access fairer and better paid work and progress in employment. This was felt by providers to be within the spirit of what Scottish Government and Fair Start Scotland were trying to achieve. It felt unfair to providers that they were unable to claim for outcomes in this situation and were worried that it created an incentive for providers to discourage education and training within the job outcome claim timeframes
  • The requirement for 3 hours of meaningful activity each week which was felt by providers to not suit many participants, for example those with health conditions, disabilities, or caring responsibilities, who needed to be able to spread their meaningful time over a longer time period than a week – where some weeks they would be able to do far more, and other weeks nothing at all. Providers were concerned that this disadvantaged those with health conditions, disabilities or caring responsibilities as the participants were unable to meet the ongoing criteria for the service and were more likely to leave the service early
  • Monthly assessments were also identified as feeling like they were too frequent across many of our case study examples. A preference for these to be done quarterly was a common message from providers. There was concern that monthly did not enable sufficient time to be able to see progress, increased the administrative time spent by staff conducting them, and were not a productive use of participants’ time
  • Providers expressed concern that the combined focus on under-represented groups and higher expected participant numbers feels unrealistic. Providers feel that many of the under-represented groups require more specialist and intensive support than the existing profile of participants, which is likely to mean more time per participant is required. There is concern that this combination will compromise the quality of delivery

6.3 Lessons for the future

Although there is a 2-year extension to the initial 3-year contracts for Fair Start Scotland delivery, the future of employability funding and delivery in Scotland is becoming clearer and it will be important to draw fully on the lessons from Fair Start Scotland to inform the roll out of the No One Left Behind approach and to consider how the 2 year extension can be used to try out new approaches. In this section we reflect on these lessons.

6.3.1 Lessons for the remainder of the two-year extension period

The 2 year extension may provide an opportunity to test out some approaches against the background of a common national service and to understand what this tells us about what works, for whom, in what kind of situation.

We have identified a number of areas from our interviews that would be worth exploring in local trials – some of these are already in place or planned:

  • Disaggregating the ‘under-represented groups’ (those who are in minority ethnic groups, people who are disabled, care experience young people, and those with convictions) and understanding both how the groups vary in their needs and how individuals vary within these groups in terms of their personal situation and needs. It is clear from our discussions that the need for a personalised service is particularly important in this area – these are far from being homogenous groups, but there are issues about context, geography, culture, and those they are in touch with that are highly pertinent and likely to be common across a range of individuals.
  • Exploring how to reach and engage the under-represented groups and what forms of support help them make progress into and through work. This is a complex area as it needs to be tackled from both ends: from the supply side, in terms of how to reach and engage people in these groups, how to provide support which is seen as relevant and effective. The 2-year extension provides the opportunity to:
    • Test out different ways of reaching individuals in each of these groups – this may involve co-design processes and an understanding of how to make services genuinely accessible.
    • Testing out joint work in parallel with employers in terms of their wish to diversify their workforce and/or benefit from the particular skills, perceptions, insights and commitment that individuals in these under -represented groups can bring to the workplace.
  • Understanding the skills and experience that private sector providers can bring to No One Left Behind. Some of the highest performing contract areas are led by private sector providers and they are likely to bring approaches and skills that can help Local Employability Partnerships develop and implement a high-performance local employability service. The 2-year extension period may provide opportunities for LEP’s to engage with private sector providers to understand exactly where and how they can add value to local partnership delivery, and how this expertise and experience can best be drawn upon.
  • Reflecting together on how best to procure services for high performance, and how to embed high performance into local governance structures in terms of incentivising or encouraging/rewarding genuinely client focused support that is effective in finding a good match with appropriate and sustainable job areas. There is, for example, a growing interest in trust-based contracting between ‘partners’ who share a commitment to designing and delivering high performance services.
  • Exploring the relationship between high performance and staff skills, pay and conditions and what this may mean for subsequent delivery and procurement.

6.3.2 Lessons for No One Left Behind (NOLB)

Drawing on our range of interviews we have identified seven lessons that can be drawn from Fair Start Scotland for application to the roll out of the No One Left Behind approach:

  • The significance of involving all local providers in the effective local governance of a local employability service. With the exception of Lot 4 (Forth Valley), Fair Start Scotland is seen by local partners as a parallel service with little evidence of cross referring of clients. However, in some areas the lead Fair Start Scotland provider is part of the LEP or a third sector provider grouping, although it is clear that the involvement of providers around a local governance table will not be enough to create a coherent high-performance service. This will require the clear and agreed identification of local needs and priorities and commissioning or delivery in a way that ensures clear accountability for high performance delivery
  • The governance structure needs to ensure that it is actively managing the performance of all local providers, identifying and acting on weak performance or a lack of collaborative behaviour around the needs of clients. This requires the collection, analysis and sharing of transparent, high-quality data, including insights from clients about the quality, relevance and impact of the services they have experienced
  • In many contract areas, Fair Start Scotland got off to a slow start. This was partly due to referrals from Jobcentre Plus being below the level expected, and the associated need to significantly enhance engagement with third parties for referrals – but it was also about the need by many providers to establish a local presence, start building relationships, and recruit staff. Some areas started with an existing local provider being awarded the contract, or well-regarded local staff being recruited or sub-contracted to deliver the service. This did not automatically lead to higher performance (in some areas the prior reputation was poor, and this was harmful to performance) but in all the areas that performed well in the early months this was built on existing capacity and networks. The lesson from this is about the significance of building local capacity and ensuring that the contracting systems can draw on and reinforce this. NOLB can ensure that this local capacity building is a long-term project, focusing on the development of an appropriate physical presence, the development and regular enhancement of staff skills, and ensuring that high quality data is collected – and can be analysed – to fully understand and respond to performance
  • Despite considerable effort being put into designing a financial model which discouraged ‘creaming and parking’ there is a recognition that the scale of resource available to support those furthest from work was not sufficient to ensure a focus on this area. A partnership approach to those who are furthest from work will help under NOLB, but it will be important to underpin this with a financial model that pays for services which may not be directly related to the achievement of a work outcome
  • In particular for those with complex needs two key learning points include that:
    • The service has fallen short in terms of the expectation that it would lead to a more integrated service, involving engagement with services such as housing, criminal justice, and health. NOLB will need to be structured locally in a way that will attract and recognise the involvement of this range of services that will be needed to support those with complex needs
    • The Individual Placement and Support (IPS) service that was available as part of Fair Start Scotland to support people with severe mental health difficulties into employment has not worked as an integrated part of the service. Under NOLB there will need to be clarity about how best to support those with severe mental health difficulties into employment and how to ensure that this is fully integrated into a wider service, not least in terms of active engagement with employers
  • Finally, the experience of Fair Start Scotland has reinforced the significance of Jobcentre Plus / DWP in any local employability service – in every area they form a significant presence in terms of scale and importance, and they play a vital role both in terms of having the greatest reach of any local service, and so their significance as an effective referrer. Looking ahead to the roll out of the NOLB approach it will be important for each area to fully engage with Jobcentre Plus / DWP and ensure that Work Coaches are able to fulfil their potential as effective referrers


Email: Arfan.iqbal@gov.scot

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