In Newham, we’ve been running a hugely effective, mainstream local employment service for the last seven years. Our experience of delivering a high quality offer to residents and employers that outperforms national benchmarks shows that devolving welfare to work, so that more power is in the hands of local councils, could pay huge dividends.
Newham is a historically poor area – the second most deprived in the country, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). With widespread economic regeneration in Newham, I was determined not to let our residents miss out on job opportunities. So in 2007 we opened the doors at Workplace, our voluntary, employer-led recruitment service. This model has enabled us to support more than 22,500 people into work, almost 5,000 each year since 2011. In the last two years the Work Programme has achieved just 1,900 job outcomes in Newham.
The offer is designed around understanding employer needs, and providing our residents with personalised, integrated support that is tailored to the jobs available.
Our work with London City Airport is a good example – our ’Take Off Into Work’ scheme, co-designed with the airport and the East London Business Alliance, has been a route in to employment for 300 residents so far. Or John Lewis, one of the cornerstone tenants of the Westfield Stratford City shopping centre. They agreed to reserve 250 jobs on opening for our long-term unemployed residents, so we co-designed a bespoke training course to ensure they were job ready.
But I wanted to be sure that the job placements we were making were sustainable. In 2012 we commissioned research which found that the vast majority – 76% – of residents who found jobs via Workplace were still in work over a year later. However those who were previously long-term unemployed were falling out of work sooner. So in late 2013 we commissioned a repeat of that research – I encourage you to take a look. Once again, Workplace jobs were more sustainable than a national DWP benchmark. And the changes we had made to how we work with harder to help residents, making it a targeted priority to focus resources and caseworker time on them, had markedly improved our performance with this group.
The success of Workplace teaches an important lesson – that employment services can achieve more at a local level, using the councils’ links into the business community and our ability to join up services around an individual. That’s why we’re arguing that central Government needs to give councils a much bigger role in the commissioning and delivery of back to work services if they are to truly tackle the persistently high rate of unemployment in this country.