Nearly five years after it was first promised in the 2017 Conservative general election manifesto, the announcement of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund: pre-launch guidance, was welcomed by a large number of organisations who will heavily rely on the fund for their future existence. However, the guidance itself has raised more questions than answers for the employment support sector.
Starting with the positives, ERSA embraces the decision to the establish local partnerships made up of “local stakeholders, civic society organisations, employer bodies, and businesses”; this could go a long way to tackle local labour market needs and address some of the inequalities throughout towns and cities in the United Kingdom.
People and Skills
Similarly, the Investment Priority of “people and skills” aligns with the beliefs and objectives of ERSA and our members. This priority aims to “boost core skills and support adults to progress in work”, “support disadvantaged people to access the skills they need to progress in life and into work” and, “reduce levels of economic inactivity and move those furthest from the labour market closer to employment, through investment in bespoke employment support tailored to local need.”
However, the pre-launch guidance states that the fund will focus on communities and place and local business interventions in 2022-23 and 2023-24, with investment to support people and skills to follow from 2024-25.
This is where ERSA’s biggest concern arises – how will employment support providers be funded between now and 2024?
The guidance provides no answers and vague statements like, “we will maintain the flexibility to fund voluntary sector organisations delivering locally important people and skills provision, where this is at risk due to the tail off of EU funds,” are incredibly unhelpful for organisations who continue to be left in limbo.
Despite a recent TUC poll, conducted by YouGov, which revealed that the most popular priority for levelling up is increasing the number and quality of jobs available – the information found in the pre-launch guidance will disappoint and worry the general population, as well as ERSA members.
In recent weeks, ERSA has decided to produce a portfolio with case studies of European funded employment provisions entitled “What have we got to lose”. These case studies are filled with examples of the exceptional work that ERSA members were able to achieve when they received European money.
For example, the Torus Foundation’s New Leaf programme, which has helped 5,000 people since launching in October 2016. Of these 5,000 people (57% of them being economically inactive), over 800 have gone into employment and more than 700 have gone onto further training. Similarly, Better Connect Ltd’s Action Towards Inclusion programme has supported over 2,800 unemployed and economically inactive people, who have significant barriers to work or training, with over 670 progressing into employment, over 600 into education and over 300 into job-search. Finally, Venture Trust’s Living Wild initiative, which supports individuals in Scotland aged 16-40, in the criminal justice system subject to Community Payback Orders (CPOs), Drug Treatment and Testing Orders (DTTOs), Restriction of Liberty Orders (RLOs), Home Detention Curfews (HDCs), or on parole.
These are only a small selection of the examples that ERSA has been sent – the full portfolio of case studies will be made publicly available soon. However, all of the organisations have the same demands. They want UKSPF to match previous levels of funding, be launched as quickly as possible, and avoid a long gap in funding which would leave many vulnerable individuals without much-needed support.
This week’s disappointing announcement could risk losing these providers altogether.
According to the guidance, the next steps will be a series of engagement activities throughout February and March, with a full prospectus to be launched in Spring. ERSA will continue to be the voice of the employment support sector throughout this process and attempt to get some much-needed answers for our members and the sector as a whole.
Elizabeth Taylor, CEO Employment Related Services Association
The original post, written for FE News can be found here.