Third sector can excel by focusing on the positives

Web wise group fair start renfrewshire launch

Sean Duffy, new chief executive of the Wise Group, spoke to TFN after a series of Fair Start Scotland launch events were held

1st May 2018 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

The third sector has a lot more to offer Scotland, the boss of the country’s biggest social enterprise has said.

Sean Duffy, who took over as chief executive of the Wise Group social enterprise earlier this year, has said that focusing on the good things that organisations are doing can help the sector excel.

He was speaking to TFN after a series of launch events were held to mark the inception of the Scottish Government’s new employability scheme Fair Start Scotland – with the Wise Group selected as the main contractor for the West region.

“The sector has a lot more to offer, and has a lot more to offer Scotland,” he said. “I think it knows that. There’s more positivity that can come out of it I believe.

“We are no different to any other sector in that we face challenges. But what do you focus on: the challenges or the successes? In a very short time, at a microcosm level, we’ve demonstrated this in the way we’ve approached Fair Start. People have run towards us and there has been no negative reaction at our launch events.”

As part of the new programme, The Wise Group has been tasked with helping 3,400 people across Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, West and East Dunbartonshire gain the skills they need to help them move towards work.

Over a two-week period, the organisation held a series of launch events in conjunction with its partners who are helping the social enterprise deliver the initiative.

The Wise Group was the only lead contractor to hold such events, and Duffy said he feels it is important to ensure the new project gains momentum from the start.

He said: “We want to get everyone involved on the same page, and get them engaging in a positive manner.

“We want to show people what the benefit of it is. The central benefit is getting people in to sustainable employment, and making sure they are well prepared and supported. But there are also benefits for the community from Fair Start too.”

Fair Start Scotland

Fair Start Scotland is Scotland’s devolved employability service.

Implemented in April, the programme aims to get 38,000 people into work over the next five years.

It is a voluntary scheme aimed at those who are furthest from getting steady work, including some with disabilities.

It will be delivered through nine regional contracts across Scotland, and is part of the Scottish Government’s to create a fairer Scotland through new devolved welfare powers.

The project drew criticism from third sector representatives after it was revealed that many of the lead contractors were private sector organisations. However the government has highlighted that a range of third sector groups will be involved as delivery partners. Momentum Scotland were named as lead contractors in the North East region. 

Launch events were headed under a theme of ‘Give It a Shot’, with people able to sign-up to Fair Start voluntarily without fear of benefits sanctions.

The Wise Group’s contract will be delivered in partnership with Enable Scotland, Project Scotland, Enterprise Mentoring, SALUS, Street League, Community Renewal, The Lennox Partnership, Working Links and The Venture Trust.

Duffy has said that dialogue between partners, and with the government, has been key to the project getting off to a positive start – with a good level of engagement reported in the West region after the first month.

“We’re spearheading this, rather than being in charge of it,” he said. “It’s not about control. We are trying to create a platform that people can come to us and think that there is something there for them: support, advice and a route to change. We’re the clarion here, this is a call to action.

“I’m proud that we are at the head of this delivery network, but it is a network and a partnership. One of the richest parts of this is that it is inclusive but also varied across the different areas.”

Fair Start faced criticism from third sector representatives when it was unveiled last year, with the majority of the contracts for specialist employment services managed by private sector providers, many of which are based outside Scotland.

Duffy said that he cannot comment on whether organisations such as The Wise Group are better placed to deliver the programme, but is confident that his organisation will excel in the region it has been assigned to by working with partners and the government.

He said: “We’ve got a long and illustrious record in employability, but I only know what we can do, not what others can do.

“I know what we are good at. Last year we got 5,000 people into work. We are fairly unique in that we cover a wide range of societal areas. We’ve got the ability to look at how we can integrate some of these challenges.”

A new arrival in the sector, having moved over from media firm Newsquest Scotland, Duffy said that he has enjoyed the reward of working for a social enterprise that makes a difference to people’s lives.

“I go home and night and have been experiencing what I call ‘the tears and snotters moments’.

“I have been having them pretty often, because I spend a lot of time talking to the people we work with.

“You hear so many harrowing stories and then they’ll point to a Wise Group employee and say if it wasn’t for them then I wouldn’t be here, or I wouldn’t be in employment, or be engaging with society. That’s what we’re here to do.”

The Wise Group

The Wise Group is Scotland’s largest social enterprise.

Founded in 1983, the organisation describes itself as a business that tackles social, economic and environmental problems.

It engages in projects around employability, sustainability, community justice and skills & learning.

The organisation has offices in Glasgow, Dundee and Kilmarnock, as well as a base in Newcastle.

Last year, the organisation reported income of just over £13 million, with expenditure of £13.83 million.

Employability has been one of the main areas of the group’s work, and it has helped deliver both local and national initiatives.

The Wise Group was selected as the lead contractor for Fair Start Scotland in Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, East Renfrewshire, West and East Dunbartonshire. The aim of the programme is to help at least 3,400 people across this area to gain the skills they need to help them move towards work.