Politicians argue over third sector role in employability programmes

Apprentices crop

Fair Start Scotland is set to be introduced next week, however questions remain about how the sector will be involved

29th March 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

The third sector's role in Scotland's new employment programme continues to be debated as it roles out across the country.

Fair Start Scotland will be introduced this week and aims to deliver personalised support to 38,000 people across the country who face challenges to finding work.

However the initiative has faced criticism that it will be dominated by private providers bent on making money rather than third sector organisations focused on helping individuals.

Ahead of next week’s launch, employability minister Jamie Hepburn faced questions in the Scottish Parliament over the sector’s role in Fair Start.

He said that the programme would be delivered locally by a range of providers who are committed to the principles of fair work.

Hepburn said: “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.”

Responding to Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Dean Lockhart, the minister denied that third sector subcontractors had walked away from Fair Start Scotland.

“It is simply not the case that we have seen third sector subcontractors walk away from fair start Scotland,” said Hepburn.

“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.”

Shadow secretary for fair work Jackie Baillie named three third sector organisations who have reportedly walked away from regional subcontracts.

She said: “The Wise Group was a subcontractor in the Tayside contract area but has withdrawn, and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have withdrawn from the west contract.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.”

Hepburn responded that all three organisations are still involved in Fair Start, but did not confirm in what regions. He added that third sector groups would be delivering about 40% of the programme.

However Billy Watson, chief executive of SAMH, later confirmed that the organisation had wthdrawn from the west contract as it was not provided with adequate funding to implement the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model for people who require mental health support.

“We are not prepared to compromise the quality of our employment provision, so regrettably we have chosen not to proceed with the contract," Watson said.

“We cannot see how it is possible for any organisation to deliver IPS properly within the funding structure that exists for Fair Start Scotland.

“We hope we are wrong and we look to Scottish Government to demonstrate that true IPS will be available to people with mental health problems in the new system.”

The Employability in Scotland website lists The Wise Group as a subcontractor in Tayside, and SAMH and RNIB as being part of the west contract.

When contacted by TFN, the a government spokeswoman said the list was published to support a statement made by Hepburn in October and regular updates, including an updated list of providers, would be published as Fair Start Scotland becomes operational.

Ahead of the launch, the government set out the next steps it plans to take in the No One Left Behind – Next Steps for the Integration and Alignment of Employability Support in Scotland report. 

The publication outlines measures to join up employability support across Scotland, including working with the Scottish Prison Service to develop new routes into employment, and piloting a single health and work gateway in Fife and Dundee.