ERSA’s Annual Conference 2014 focused on the future of employment support services post the 2015 General Election.

The day began with an introduction from ERSA Chair, Jackie Smallwood, who gave a number of announcements on behalf of ERSA including launching a Scottish Network and introducing the State of the Sector Survey due to take place in early 2015. She also announced the sponsor for the 2015 employability awards, Seetec. Finally, she gave a first glimpse of the December Work Programme job start figures, announcing that overall the programme has now helped 639,000.

Charlie Elphicke MP then took to the stage where he applauded the huge strides taken in employment figures since 2010 and highlighted that the Work Programme is forecast to exceed performance of previous programmes, while saving money for the taxpayer.  He said that the department has learnt lessons from the Work Programme, including commissioning more slowly and encouraging more engagement from the VCS sector.

In the first plenary, conference attendees heard from Andy Harrop, Fabian Society who said that Labour’s direction of travel is small local contracts for the voluntary sector. Sean Worth, Westminster Policy Institute & former Special Adviser to David Cameron said that this was still an young sector and that as it progresses there will be measures to force a diverse market and increase transparency. Dr Stuart Thomson, Head of Public Affairs, Bircham Dyson Bell and Author, ‘News, Views and Hullabaloos’ speculated on the make-up of the upcoming government and predicted a potential for a more diverse coalition.
In the second plenary which focused on commissioning the perfect employment programme. Dave Simmonds, OBE, CESI, said that longer contracts have to deal with boom and bust economic cycles, although there are still people who are off work for reasons other than economics. Matt Thurstan, Director, DWP said that DWP needs to form a stronger partnership with the sector and encourage more sector input into the design and delivery of programmes. Chris Blackwell, Maximus, highlighted the problems with performance measures and questioned whether local commission would have the same issues as national commissioning. Finally Geraldine Blake, Chief Executive, Community Links outlined the need for a holistic service that intervenes early before issues become bigger and more expensive. She said that the perfect programme would create confident communities with people ready for the difficulties that they might have to face.

Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP gave the keynote speech in the afternoon where he said that while the Work Programme has performed for some, it is failing the hardest to help. Labour, he said, would offer more integrated services and a different payment structure, with more upfront payment.

The final plenary of the day looked at partnerships. The audience heard first from Sir Robin Wales, Leader of London Borough of Newham who emphasised that we need to ensure that ‘regeneration’ in a local area, actually helps local people. Julia Unwin, CBE, Joseph Rowntree Foundation talked about issues with in work poverty, particularly with young private renters. Darren Tranter, Working Links said that we need to work to make jobs more people ready.
Thank you to everyone who attended the day.

Find out more about ERSA Conference 2015 here.