There was a little-reported but critical announcement made this month about London and Greater Manchester (GM) commissioning their own employment support – services that help jobseekers into work – as part of the new nationally commissioned Work and Health Programme.
This is an important milestone in the government’s devolution agenda, as well as in the future design of employment and skills services.
Although the announcement underlines the uneven advancement of the government’s devolution drive, with GM and London driving ahead while other areas continue to negotiate deals, it also represents a significant opportunity. Done effectively, devolution offers the chance to join up services including health, social care, employment, housing and skills, making the most of individual budget streams and avoiding the duplication of services.
London and GM have been presented with an exciting opportunity and it is important for them to be able to use it to demonstrate the value of devolution. Whitehall has not traditionally been able to hand over the reins of power willingly, so it is crucial for localisation as a whole that the trailblazers get it right.
Although not a magic bullet, devolution offers the opportunity to better integrate services to meet the needs of the local population. For example, increasing the co-location of services can make a significant difference in terms of building trust and understanding between different organisations and increasing the ease of access for jobseekers themselves.
With the ability to unify funding streams, GM and London will now have significantly more to spend on employment support through the Work and Health Programme than in areas where it is being nationally commissioned. Through Working Well and Working Capital, the respective areas have already demonstrated their abilities to integrate services and offer a more holistic approach that encompasses an individual’s wellbeing with their employment prospects. With the increased funding of the Work and Health Programme, they will be able to scale up such initiatives.
However, alongside the benefits of devolution there are of course pitfalls. In particular, there is a danger around ensuring a consistent standard of commissioning, and with increased commissioners there is always likely to be greater variation. It is therefore important that local government procurement processes are transparent, so as to ensure that standards in procurement are maintained and that cases of poor procurement can be identified, challenged and learnt from.
Looking ahead, a further challenge will be joining up Jobcentre Plus (JCP), a centrally run national institution, with locally commissioned services. This tension is currently playing out in Scotland. For the first time, from April this year, the Scottish Government has designed and will deliver its own national employment support programmes, but these still necessitate interaction with a Whitehall-led JCP. In effect, the Scottish Government has some of the powers to design its own initiatives, but lacks all of the necessary tools to join the system up.The same will also be true in the English regions.
Such tensions are to be expected along the way, but what’s important is that both the national and regional decision makers retain the political will to make it work, whilst putting in place the processes to ensure effective outcomes for their residents. This month heralds an important marker in the road and it’s up to everyone in the employment and skills landscape to play their part as the pace-setters for other regions to follow.
This article originally appeared on NCFE’s blog: https://www.ncfe.org.uk/blog/2017/2/21/devolution-road-marking-the-milestone-in-employment-and-skills/