Employment support organisations are joining forces to write to the Secretary, and Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove and Lisa Nandy, to air their concerns over the Government’s forthcoming Levelling Up White Paper.
The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) established a UKSPF Forum to monitor and lobby for the new Shared Prosperity Fund, which is to replace European structural funding now that the UK has left the European Union. This new funding pot is likely to play a key part in the long-awaited White Paper, which is expected to be published early in the new year by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
At a meeting reflecting on their hopes for the White Paper, members of the forum highlighted the importance of reaching those furthest away from the job market and removing any barriers to accessing employment and training. They want to ensure employability and training programmes are available to people from all walks of life, including school leavers, disabled people and the over-50s; with a focus on preparation for good jobs, skills, social inclusion and social mobility.
The forum is seeking assurances that existing provision of employability services will not be negatively affected by the changeover in funding. They are calling for a seamless transition when the new Shared Prosperity Fund is released – with no gap in funding. They fear that any such gap could lead to a loss of services that play a vital role in helping some of the most disadvantaged people in society to get their working lives back on track.
Members also want to know how much power local authorities will be given in the distribution of the new funding, or whether all the key decisions will be made by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. There are also questions about the future role of the Department for Work and Pensions. The forum is calling for more flexibility and less bureaucracy in the delivery of the new fund, to ensure it can be accessed by a broad range of expert providers.
Elizabeth Taylor, chief executive of ERSA, said: “European funding has long-since been embedded in employability contracts, going back to the 1980s. It has always been able to reach people who weren’t actively involved in the labour market, for whatever reason, and it’s been able to respond to local skills and employment challenges.
“We still don’t know when the new Shared Prosperity Fund will start. My concern is that if this is allowed to drift, we will start losing providers in the employment support community because we’re not getting to the point where shared prosperity is being commissioned. We would be losing a wealth of experience and knowledge from the sector and weakening support for jobseekers when it is needed the most.”
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Elizabeth Taylor, Chief Executive of ERSA, is available for media interviews.
The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the representative body for the employment support sector.
ERSA’s membership spans the private, voluntary, and public sectors and ranges from large multi-nationals through to small specialist charities.