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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 27 March 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Fair Start Scotland, City Region Deals, Decision Time, Cancer Awareness for Young People


Fair Start Scotland

The next item of business is a statement by Jamie Hepburn on launching Scotland’s new employment support service and welcoming the opportunity for better integration and alignment. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement.


We are now one week away from the commencement of fair start Scotland on 3 April. I firmly believe that Scotland should have full powers over employment and employability policy in order to enable us to deliver a more joined-up system for those in and out of work. However, for now, we are fully using the limited employment support powers that were devolved by the Scotland Act 2016 to deliver our programme for government commitment to provide tailored, person-centred support to a minimum of 38,000 people who are furthest removed from the labour market.

Fair start Scotland builds on the success of our transitional services, work able Scotland and work first Scotland, which have been running over the past year and are on track to exceed the ambition that we had to support up to 4,800 people to move towards and into employment. A full assessment of that interim year will be available in due course.

I have seen at first hand how those transitional services are delivering tailored and personalised employment support that is capable of making a difference to people’s lives and having a positive impact on their confidence and self-esteem. Fair start Scotland will deliver the same approach by providing high-quality employment support to unemployed people, including those who face multiple barriers but who want to work and need help to enter and remain in the labour market; by putting people at the centre and delivering flexible, tailored support that meets their needs; and by embedding dignity and respect, fairness and equality in our approach to helping people to find work.

The service will be delivered locally by a range of service providers and their delivery partners from the public, private and third sectors. It will be delivered by providers that have committed to the principles of fair work, including paying the living wage and avoiding use of zero-hours contracts, and it will ensure that people will be able to participate in fair start Scotland on a voluntary basis. I am determined that fair start Scotland will be about encouraging people to take the opportunity that our support offers and that it will not be about threatening benefit sanctions and anyone’s financial wellbeing.

Over the past three months, I have led local regional events across Scotland to ensure readiness for fair start Scotland delivery. The most striking feature to emerge from those discussions is that local government and all those who have been involved share a clear agenda to provide the best possible employment support for our people and ensure that they have access to the best possible opportunities. During that period, we have worked closely with fair start Scotland providers to ensure that they are ready and have developed robust plans, processes and guidance so that fair start Scotland delivers a high-quality service to its participants. We have also worked closely with the Department for Work and Pensions and its jobcentres across Scotland. As jobcentres are the main referral route into fair start Scotland, we have worked productively with the DWP to ensure that information technology systems will support fair start Scotland referrals.

Over the past few months, we have delivered awareness-raising sessions to around 1,500 Jobcentre Plus staff across Scotland, who have demonstrated their willingness to work with us on fair start Scotland and to deliver the aim of helping people to find work. I am pleased that Jobcentre Plus has already begun referring to fair start Scotland for our providers to hit the ground running on 3 April.

As fair start Scotland begins, we will do as we have done from the outset of the process: we will continue to listen to stakeholders in the third, private and public sectors and, above all, to those who use our service, to ensure that fair start Scotland delivers for those who need it.

Although fair start Scotland is a significant development in the Scottish employability landscape, it is only a first step in a wider programme to deliver more effective and joined-up employment support for people and in our work to deliver more inclusive growth and opportunities for all. Last August, I announced that 13 projects would receive funding from our employability innovation and integration fund. Those projects involve partners collaborating at local level to deliver new innovative approaches to join up employability support with health and social care, justice and housing services.

Earlier today, I visited Capital City Partnership’s joined up for jobs integration project in Edinburgh, which brings together existing housing, criminal justice and health and social care services to work collectively and bring about genuine and sustainable integration with employability provision. I was encouraged by that collaboration between health partners, including national health service link workers and public health practitioners, to explore how links between health and employability services can be strengthened and can help to deliver better employment outcomes for people. That is exactly the type of joined-up, collaborative and better-aligned service delivery that we require.

With the launch of fair start Scotland, the time is right to set out a plan to better integrate and align employability support with other support and services. I am therefore delighted to announce the publication today of “No One Left Behind—Next Steps for the Integration and Alignment of Employability Support in Scotland”, which sets out how we will start to join up wider employability support in Scotland. It has a specific focus on integrating employability support with health, justice and housing services—those areas are critical in enabling better support for people who are furthest removed from employment—and it sets out the actions that we will develop and implement collaboratively with our partners. It sets out action to work with local government to improve the alignment of employability provision at local level; action focused on helping more people who have been released from custody to find employment, and on preventing returns to criminal activity by working with the Scottish Prison Service to develop new routes into employment services that will help to support more people with a conviction to find and sustain work; and action to pilot a health and work gateway in Fife and Dundee to provide a single point of contact for different services for those who are at risk of falling out of work or those who have recently left work because of ill health. The pilot will achieve better integration of healthcare and employability support so that people with disabilities or long-term health conditions, including mental health conditions, will benefit from a service that more closely matches their needs.

I want to be clear: the measures that I have set out are just the start of a wider programme of work to better integrate and align employability services. That work includes engaging with people and organisations to discuss the future of the employability system in Scotland and identify where we can make a real difference to the delivery of a more flexible, person-centred and joined-up system.

Our review of what we have in place will focus on the resources that the Scottish Government invests in the employability system. I want to make sure that our investment best meets our shared ambitions and responds to a changing labour market. The review will be driven by the views and experiences of service users and those front-line teams delivering services. I look forward to being involved in many of those conversations over the next few months.

The work to deliver the actions that are laid out in “No One Left Behind” will begin now. A delivery group will monitor the progress made. I will keep Parliament up to date on our initial activity by the end of this year; I will also publish an annual report showing progress against the plan.

The launch of fair start Scotland is an important milestone in utilising the powers of the Scotland Act 2016 in delivering employability support. Our transitional services have been a success. With our planning and preparation for fair start Scotland, I am confident that it, too, will be a success and will deliver for the people of Scotland.

The Government’s work through “No One Left Behind” will begin the process of joining up employability support and deliver better employment outcomes for people across the country. Our opportunity to deliver a distinct and more aligned system of employment support in Scotland begins now. It is an opportunity that I am determined we make the most of.

I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement. The devolution of employability support programmes to this Parliament through the Scotland Act 2016 and the Smith commission was supported by the Scottish Conservatives. The ability to shape and improve the Scottish labour market best to suit local priorities and the needs of individuals should be at the very heart of employment services. What is the minister’s reaction to concerns that have been raised by organisations such as the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, which has said that

“the Scottish Government’s approach is not sufficiently flexible and responsive to individual needs or to their circumstances or geographical location”?

As the minister will be aware, the SCVO has also raised concerns that third sector subcontractors have been walking away from the system due to what it calls “unrealistic costings”. The minister’s statement contained no mention of the cost of or the budget for the programme. Given the concerns about “unrealistic costings”, will the minister provide a guarantee to Parliament that the costings that he has previously provided for the implementation of the employability programmes are realistic? Will he guarantee that we will not see significant cost overruns in the fair start Scotland programme as we have with countless other new systems introduced by his Government?

I will pick up on each of those points. It is simply not the case that we have seen third sector subcontractors walk away from fair start Scotland. There have been changes in specific contract areas, which is not unusual when any such public contract is awarded, but each and every third sector organisation that signed up to fair start Scotland is still involved in various locations across the country.

On the flexibility and responsiveness of fair start Scotland, particularly in relation to its geographical breakdown, I consider that we have created a flexible system. Such programmes are new to us and we will seek to learn from what we put in place. Within the confines of our having awarded the contracts, we have the ability to be flexible and responsive to what we learn.

On the suggestion that the programme will not be geographically responsive, I will take no lessons from the Scottish Conservative Party. We have awarded contracts across nine local contract package areas. If we were still under the United Kingdom Government’s jurisdiction, Scotland would be one contract package area, as happens across the rest of the United Kingdom, where supercontract package areas are awarded with no chance for local interaction.

On the cost of or the budget for the programme, again I will take no lessons from the Scottish Conservatives. Dean Lockhart omitted to mention the 85 per cent cut in our funding when the policy was devolved to us. We had to find other resources—we did so willingly—to ensure that the programme would be a success. I have already set out that the budget for the three-year referral will be £96 million for the contracts that we have awarded. I give my commitment to Parliament that that remains the case.

I thank the minister for early sight of his statement. The Government has made much of its entirely laudable aim to create an employment support service that is better than what was previously in place—a fairer, more flexible and more person-centred service.

In truth, that has not gone entirely smoothly. These responsibilities were devolved a year ago, but the Government rolled contracts on to deliver a transitional year. When the new contracts were awarded late last year, 85 per cent of the primary contractors turned out to be private sector providers once again. The minister said categorically that transition services have been a success, but he also said that we would have to wait for an assessment in due course. If he has the evidence of success to hand, why does he not simply publish it today?

With regard to the new programme, we have been told that the so-called customer welcome pack will require people to sign up nine separate times to various programme commitments at their first meeting. Does the minister agree that that system seems a far cry from one that is based on dignity, fairness and respect?

No; I disagree with Mr Gray’s assessment. We have put in place a system that is fairer. Primary among the commitments of this Administration is to do what has not been done south of the border: to ensure that people are not compelled to take part in our programme and that our programme is seen as an opportunity for them to take part.

On the array of providers to which we have awarded contracts, I could not have been clearer throughout the entire process that there would be a mixed economy and that the various sectors would be delivering the programme. That is exactly what we have put in place. There is a significant role for the third sector in each of the contract package areas. That is the commitment that we made, and that is the commitment that we have fulfilled.

Mr Gray commented on the success of our interim approach. My view is informed in two ways. The first—I readily concede that it is anecdotal—is that I have spoken to people who have gone through the programme and they have spoken to me.

What about the numbers in work?

Do not worry, Mr Gray; we will come to the numbers in a minute.

Those people have spoken to me about the great benefits that they have seen from the different approach that we have taken. They have been through predecessor programmes that were administered by the DWP, and they are saying that the programme that we are delivering feels different and is delivering differently for them.

I am happy to provide the raw data. Mr Gray has clearly not been paying attention. We published the information on 28 February 2018. I remind Mr Gray that our commitment was to support up to 4,800 people with disabilities and health conditions towards and into work this year. Up to 29 December—three quarters of the way through the year—we had 4,472 people joining work for Scotland and work able Scotland. We will exceed the target that we set this year.

What makes fair start Scotland different from previous DWP employment support programmes?

I have alluded to one of the fundamental differences, in that our programme will be entirely voluntary. For me, that is the correct approach. It has been informed by my experience as a constituency representative—I am sure that it is common to us all—who has had constituents who have been through the benefit system and who have been sanctioned. We know the duress that that puts people under. We will get more out of people if they take part voluntarily.

We are funding our programme appropriately. I made that point to Mr Lockhart. We have committed £20 million of additional resources each year of this parliamentary session, over and above the reduced funding that we received from the DWP. That is £96 million for a three-year referral period. In contrast, the UK Government’s approach is a £600 million award for all of England and Wales for a five-year referral period. On a pro rata basis, we are investing significantly more.

I have already made the point that the programme will be delivered more locally. We are encouraging service providers to commit to the fair work workforce community benefits agenda. They are committed to paying at least the living wage to those who deliver the programme.

Of course, we also have an offer of supported employment and individual placement and support through our approach, which is somewhat different from the work and health programme.

The minister talked about greater integration with health, housing and justice services, which is to be welcomed. What action is being taken to improve links with skills agencies and providers, to ensure that we have a service that provides people with the personalised training and support that they need if they are to enter the workplace and build on their existing skills?

Mr Halcro Johnston asks an eminently reasonable question. During the transition year, the work able Scotland programme—the contract for which was issued by Skills Development Scotland—has been a firm part of the agenda. There is an explicit commitment in “No One Left Behind” to take action to ensure that as we take people through the journey into employment we equip them with the skills that the labour market requires. We make the point that we must look at growth sectors, such as early years childcare.

As we take forward our employability programmes, part of the challenge will be to ensure that they are aligned with every element of the system. Our skills agencies are a critical part of that.

The minister is aware that there is significant disappointment that so little of the programme’s delivery—a mere 15 per cent—is being undertaken by the voluntary sector. Despite what he has said, at least three voluntary organisations that were subcontractors have withdrawn.

Let me refresh the minister’s memory. The Wise Group was a subcontractor in the Tayside contract area but has withdrawn, and the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the Royal National Institute of Blind People have withdrawn from the west contract. I ask the minister to confirm that that information is accurate. I am sure that he will do so, because I took it from his website: it was there last week, but it seems to have disappeared this week. I can tell the minister that we pay attention to what he gets up to.

Does the minister share my concern that voluntary sector organisations are voting with their feet? What does he think their reasons are for withdrawing from those contract areas?

The only disappointment that I am sensing is the disappointment of the Labour Party that we are administering the programme very differently and it cannot use the programme as a rod with which to batter us.

I confirm that the Wise Group, RNIB and SAMH are all still taking part in delivery of fair start Scotland. They are still part of our programme.

Jackie Baillie has estimated that the voluntary sector will be delivering only 15 per cent of our programme. That is not correct; the third sector will deliver far more widely. Our estimate is that it will deliver something approaching 40 per cent of the programme. Jackie Baillie said that she pays attention; she needs to pay a little more.

The minister knows that in Forth Valley, fair start Scotland will be led by Falkirk Council, which has an employment and training unit that I, like many other people, think is second to none. Does he agree that the local authority led bid provides an excellent opportunity to develop a collaborative approach to co-investing and employability at local level, and creates the potential to declutter the landscape and devolve more activity to local employability partnerships?

Mr MacDonald is quite right to beat the drum for one of the services that delivers in his area. I have been to the employment and training unit in Falkirk and am impressed with the work that it does. Pamela Smith, who heads that unit and is also head of the Scottish local authorities economic development group, was an important member of the advisory group that informed the design of the fair start Scotland programme. Falkirk is certainly playing its part in the programme.

On the more fundamental question, our contracting approach to delivery of fair start Scotland is pragmatic and realistic, and is designed to deliver the best possible service. I am delighted that Falkirk Council is taking the lead in Forth Valley and I look forward to working with the council to ensure that it delivers the services that it has said it will deliver. The same is true for providers in all parts of Scotland.

Will the minister confirm that fair start providers will be rewarded for helping people into work that pays the real living wage rather than the lower national living wage, which the Scottish Government has rightly recognised and acknowledged is not allowing people to meet a basic standard of living?

Alison Johnstone has mentioned to it, so she will be well aware of the Government’s great commitment to the living wage. That commitment is why we pay it and why we fund the Poverty Alliance to make sure that it works with all sectors to encourage employers to become accredited living wage employers. Through that work, we have seen an uplift of some 25,000 people being paid the living wage, so we will continue it in order to ensure that everyone in Scotland, including people who will go through fair start Scotland, has the best possible chance of ending up in fulfilling and, above all, well-remunerated employment.

I call Will Rennie, to be followed by Ruth Maguire.

I was disappointed that the minister did not answer Jackie Baillie’s question about the withdrawal of three organisations from the new service—in particular, SAMH from the west contract. I hope that he will address that point. I understand that SAMH is still involved in other contracts, but why did it withdraw from that one? Getting mental health issues right has been a particular challenge for employment support services, so we need SAMH and its expertise to be involved in delivery of the service. Will he answer Jackie Baillie’s question?

Mr Rennie may not be surprised to learn that, from my perspective, I did answer Jackie Baillie’s question. I point out to him that SAMH is still involved in delivery of the programme.

As far as the contract lot that he mentioned is concerned, it is not unusual that such relationships develop. However, Mr Rennie should rest at ease: SAMH not being the specific delivery partner in that contract package area does not mean that it is not incumbent on the service provider to ensure that any person who requires specific support because of mental health challenges gets it.

A number of times now, I have made the point that we have the individual placement support model, which is unlike any other employment programme in these islands and is specifically designed to support people who have mental health challenges. Our system is designed to support such individuals: that is exactly what I expect it to do.

I call Alexander Burnett, to be followed by Fulton MacGregor.

As, I am sure, the minister is aware, employment rates for disabled people are significantly lower than they are for the non-disabled population. Specifically, many autistic constituents have contacted me about their struggles in finding work. What specific measures will be put in place to ensure that the “No One Left Behind” policy will be tailored to the individual needs of disabled people?

I am not used to such reasonable questions from Conservative members. I do not know whether I will get used to it. Mr Burnett’s question was very reasonable. He will be aware that we have, separate from “No One Left Behind”, also published “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People—Our Delivery Plan to 2021 for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, in which we made a significant commitment to doing more to ensure that we can halve the disability employment gap. At the end of April, we will hold a summit that the First Minister, the Minister for Social Security and I will all attend, and which will focus specifically on employment for disabled people.

However, I recognise that that group should not just be looked at in the round and that there will be differing cohorts within it. We know that the employment rate for people with learning disability or autism is lower, so we will clearly have to consider working with organisations that represent them—such as Enable, which we have already supported through our 14:19 fund for engagement in the territory of employability projects—to ensure that we can do rather better. That will be a critical part of the work that we will progress through “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People” and “No One Left Behind”.

I apologise to Ruth Maguire: I meant to call her last.

Apology accepted, Presiding Officer.

Can the minister provide detail on how fair start Scotland will be integrated with other services and support?

When I have gone around the country as part of the mobilisation activity, I have been very pleased to meet the service providers in each contract lot area. I have been meeting them not in isolation but side by side: we have seen around the table the various local authorities, the DWP, Jobcentre Plus, the Scottish Prison Service and the national health service.

My clear expectation—which is also laid out in the contractual expectations—is that bodies to which we have awarded fair start Scotland contracts must make a concerted effort to find out what is happening in their area and make sure that they are working hand in hand with the pre-existing services.

Of course, this is also part of the wider challenge that we have laid out in “No One Left Behind”. It is about working to ensure that we have a better understanding of the full picture of services across the country, and that what we offer can complement better what is offered by local authorities and interact better with other statutory services including the health service, the Scottish Prison Service, social work, and so on.

How will the Scottish Government evaluate the success of fair start Scotland?

A number of requirements for us to evaluate success are laid out in the terms of fair start Scotland. We will rigorously manage the performance of fair start Scotland providers to ensure that there is high-quality service and consistent provision across the whole of Scotland.

We are already taking the opportunity to learn lessons from delivery of this year’s transitional services work for Scotland through work able Scotland. We will be developing an evaluation approach that will focus on both management information and data, which I am sure Iain Gray will be delighted to learn we will be publishing and making available for all to see.

We will also be speaking to the people who are actually using our services. That is the most fundamentally important thing for us to do; I have made the point that I have been out doing that already. We will only truly understand the difference that our services are making when we speak to and engage with the people who are using them. That will be a critical part of the evaluation work.

Can the minister confirm that when people enrol in fair start Scotland, they will remain eligible to access their own individual training allowances? Also, can participants take part in other community programmes that are currently matched with funding from the European social fund?

That question has been raised when we have been speaking to organisations around the country. I will put to one side the great uncertainties that exist around the European social fund generally, which we are having to explore. I do not think that it will be as cut and dried as saying that a person will or will not be able to access projects that are funded by the European social fund. We clearly do not set the rules for the ESF, which set out that programmes cannot replicate existing services, but there will be other projects that people can benefit from.

We are looking at that question just now and I am happy to ensure that Mr Griffin is kept informed of any further information, which we will roll out to all our providers across the country.

Notwithstanding the previous answer from the minister, can he confirm that people who use fair start will continue to receive support once they find employment, and that businesses will be able to access advice and information on how to support employees who have additional needs?

Yes, I can give that confirmation. We know that ensuring that a person gets pre-work support is only half the battle; it is essential that we also provide in-work support for the person once they become an employee, and that we provide support for employers. They will, on occasion, need to access that information and advice.

We have put in place a system that will offer 12 months of high-quality pre-work support, rising to 18 months for people with high support needs, if needed. We will also offer 12 months of in-work assistance to individuals. That means that through fair start Scotland, people can rely on up to 24 to 30 months of support, including more support once they are in work, in order to keep them in work. That compares with a maximum of 21 months of support through the work and health programme.

I thank the minister and members. That concludes the statement on fair start Scotland.