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Well, it will take a while for the dust to settle, but some things are clear – Labour lost, the Liberal Democrats lost and the pollster completely lost.  And, of course, the Conservative won…

So, the question now is what does that mean for our sector?  To some extent, it means business as normal.  The big government contracts have been extended, whilst Universal Credit is already on a path of accelerated rollout as part of wider welfare reforms.  However, over the course of the five years – if the Conservatives maintain their majority – much will also change.

Quite what that change will be will depend, to some extent, on the identities of those who walk through the doors of Caxton House.  We’re expecting the ministerial team to be clear by Monday, but we know there are differing views within the party on things like devolution of services in England and Wales.  We’re probably less likely to see this under a Conservative government than if it had been Labour, but as a Tory MP close to high command said to me recently – do not underestimate the extent to which the Conservatives might devolve services as a way of cutting costs.    ERSA’s launching its Greater Manchester network next Friday just in case…

On future commissioning, ERSA has been leading the market engagement for the DWP, including through running an Expert Reference Group, so we feel pretty close to the recommendations that are likely to be put to incoming ministers. Labour said quite clearly it would have gone for a separate programme for those with disabilities and health conditions; the Conservatives appear less likely to do so, although – as I said – the views of individual ministers are likely to hold sway.  We know we’re in for more PBR as a sector, with those ‘distance travelled’ payments perhaps receding ever further into the distance…

Of good news for the sector, is that an incoming Conservative minister may feel far less need to pause and review decisions over ESF procurement in the way that a Labour minister might.  Given many in the sector are crying out for these funds, that’s essential.  We also know, from the Tory manifesto, that they’re looking to procure a youth employment programme – look at the details in our pretty comprehensive manifesto rundown.

The backdrop of continued austerity and welfare reform may however fill some with trepidation, although might seem an opportunity for others.  The Conservatives are committed to taking £13 billion from departmental budgets.  Given that leases for much of the Jobcentre Plus estate are up during the course of the next government, might that mean outsourcing for JCP services? On welfare reform, the manifesto commitment to cut the welfare bill by £12 billion will straightforwardly affect jobseekers and those claiming in work benefits.  We await details, but it was interesting to see the ideas raised by Policy Exchange, No 10’s favourite thinktank, pre election.  Certainly health and disability benefits appear within the government’s sights, plus further housing benefit reform.

And finally, Scotland.  ERSA’s Scotland network, launched in February, has been gaining strength. With the SNP almost sweeping the board north of the border, forging stronger links with the SNP is on everybody’s agenda.
So much to do in the coming weeks.  But regardless of how any of us voted individually, I know we’re all going to do the best we can for jobseekers.

Kirsty Mchugh, ERSA Chief Executive