Response to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund: Prospectus

ERSA welcomes the release of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund: prospectus and the added details that come with it.
As first outlined in the pre-launch guidance, the fund will be split into three investment priorities (communities and place; supporting local business; and people and skills). The People and Skills priority is most relevant to ERSA members, with the prospectus stating that “places can use their funding to help reduce the barriers some people face to employment and support them to move towards employment and education.”

In the full prospectus, published by DLUHC, the Government set out its framework for allocating funds from the Fund, designed to replace former EU Structural Funding.

However, as confirmed in the prospectus yesterday, UKSPF will focus on communities and place and local business interventions in 2022-23 and 2023-24, with people and skills funding to follow from 2024-25.
Despite ERSA’s ongoing campaign to get this changed, unfortunately, the rigid timings remain. However, an important caveat has now been added: “In England, places will be able to select people and skills interventions from 2024-2025 onwards, or earlier where they meet the voluntary sector considerations outlined here.
The voluntary sector considerations state: “Lead local authorities have the flexibility to fund targeted people and skills provision in 2022-23 and 2023-24 where this is a continuing priority for 2024-25 and may be at significant risk of ending due to the tail off of EU funds. This flexibility may only be used where provision is currently delivered by voluntary and community organisations, having regard for the focus of the Fund and available funding.”

It is worth noting that this does not apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In these areas, funding for the ‘people and skills’ investment priority will be granted from 2022-23 onwards.

As outlined in ‘What Have We Got to Lose?’, ERSA’s portfolio of European-funded employment support, the majority of the case studies come to an end in March or April 2023. The continued insistence by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on using these timeframes mean that ERSA members should start liaising with their lead local authorities as a matter of urgency.

However, one major concern for ERSA and our members is for the organisations that deliver over a larger geographical area than the local authority areas that have been selected by the government. The prospectus set out that lead local authorities working together to agree and commission people and skills activity is “strongly encouraged”. However, this leaves many organisations relying on the enterprise of lead local authorities, leaving the future of many organisations and the people they support in limbo.

Similarly, if local authorities do not collaborate, which cannot always be easy due to the lack of avenues to facilitate this: will organisations have to make the same plea to several different lead local authorities in order to carry out vital provision? If this is the case, this seems incredibly counterintuitive to the government’s promise of “reducing levels of bureaucracy”.

Furthermore, the release of the Multiply prospectus is also welcome. However, the fact that this large amount of money could potentially impact on the level of people and skills funding for employment support is worrying and ERSA will continue to find out more on this topic.

ERSA’s work on UKSPF

Way to Work: “Any job now” is no solution to UK labour crisis

As the DWP announces its Way to Work campaign – its first major employability push for 2022 – the headlines herald half a million people into work by the summer, underlaid with the threat of potential benefit sanctions for Universal Credit recipients.

The campaign hinges on jobseekers taking a job, “any job” according to Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, after just four weeks, rather than the three months currently allowed for searching within their chosen field. If people are capable of jobs in other sectors but do not actively participate, or accept said roles, their benefit payment may be cut.

I find this move deeply disturbing and a huge step back from the people-centred methodologies that the employability industry has successfully fought to extol to commissioners in recent years. One-size-doesn’t-fit-all. Individually tailored support which meets personal and local labour market needs must remain front and centre of any quality employability provision.

EMPLOYER NEED

While the media lists a handful of large employers that back the Way to Work initiative, I don’t believe that coercion and sanctions of this kind will ultimately meet employers’ needs.

Through ERSA’s employer engagement work, we consistently hear that employers want a job match, not a conscripted workforce. They want people with a genuine interest in their roles, with the right motivation, ambition, and skills to become a valued, long-term member of staff.

Quality employment support providers understand their locality’s job landscape, the employers with vacancies and their requirements. They’re also realists, looking where the opportunities exist and searching for that not-always-obvious right fit. Employability professionals are specifically trained to exploit any transferrable skills a jobseeker may have and encourage a wider sphere of job searching than a candidate may at first consider relevant.

The pandemic response Job Entry Targeted Support programme, JETS, is a case in point. Tasked with getting people back into work quickly – a phrase being repeated by DWP for the Way to Work campaign – JETS shows what the employment support sector can achieve when people are referred from Jobcentre Plus to their offers. Importantly, JETS is incentivised to support people into SUSTAINED employment, and I’ve seen countless good news stories of people successfully re-entering the workforce of their choice, or switching to embark on entirely new careers suited to their skills, with no coercion required.

However, what JETS also indicates is that those people with the skills and motivation to flex are already doing so, and are likely to be jobseekers with some form of recent work experience. Way to Work is predominantly targeted to those in the intensive work search group on Universal Credit and I echo Stephen Evans’s comments from the Learning and Work Institute who said:

“People who’ve recently lost their jobs are the most likely to find work quickly. To tackle current labour shortages, we need a more ambitious plan for people who have left the labour market, with support increasing the longer someone is out of work.”

PARTICIPATION CHALLENGE

Way to Work promises jobseekers more face-to-face time with their Jobcentre Plus work coach. Yet two ongoing issues could well render this a moot point.

JCP work coaches – thousands of which have been newly recruited through the pandemic – face an unenviable barrage of jobseekers with differing barriers to employment; a record number of vacancies to fill; and an often bureaucratic referral system to a complex range of national and local support providers. With the clock now ticking faster thanks to Way to Work can we really expect them to offer genuinely tailored support each and every time?

That is of course assuming people visit Jobcentre Plus. The lack of candidates for vacancies is already impacted by the participation challenge, notably people choosing not to engage with their Jobcentre Plus advisor. This is particularly evident with people over 50 who are choosing not to return to work and to live on savings or to take pensions early. There is a real danger that there will be no incentive for certain demographics of people to engage with Jobcentre Plus now.

And for those engaging with a work coach, can willingness to participate really be enhanced by sanctions? The government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, has in the past found no evidence that benefit sanctions work, concluding that they were as likely to force people to stop claiming benefits without getting a job as they were to get them into employment.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office said “Sanctions on benefits have a high opportunity cost, not only for those who are dependent on those benefits if sanctions are applied, but for the efficient use of public resources. “We acknowledge the department’s effort to reduce its error rate on sanctions, but we think there is more to do in terms of reducing them further, and in reducing the notable differences in sanctions applications between comparable localities.” NAO report on benefit sanctions in 2016)

UKSPF

Since the 1980s, European-funded provision has prioritised people disconnected from the labour market; those not proactively accessing Jobcentre Plus. These vital programmes help some of the most disadvantaged people in society, removing barriers to employment and training, getting their working lives back on track.

As we continue to wait for firmer details of its successor, the UK’s Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), the record number of unfilled vacancies makes a strong case for community-based, outsourced provision.

I firmly believe the long delayed UKSPF is the way to get vacancies filled, developing people from all walks of life for local vacancies they can sustain, to bring economic independence to them and their families.

BIGGER PICTURE

In an ever evolving world, catapulted but not solely driven by the pandemic, the need to align education and skills provision at every level with the needs of the current and future economy is vital.

As reported by the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee urgent action is needed to not only address the UK’s youth unemployment rate, but to reform our school system, further education and vocational programmes to future proof our young people.

Action now could avoid the labour market crisis being a cause for concern for future generations of employers and individuals.

In conclusion, while I concede that there is some merit in work for work’s sake – we all know it’s good for us in many ways – I think this new push is a dangerous initiative that disregards the evidence and experience of employers, the NAO, and the employability industry at large. This is not a solution to the UK’s long term labour market crisis, which needs adequate funding, coordination and expertise to support people’s aspirations to work in quality jobs with long term futures.

Elizabeth Taylor, CEO, Employment Related Services Association writes exclusively for FE News on 28 January 2022. Original post here.

Read Tony Wilson’s blog ‘Way to Work – a first step, but we can and must do better’ here.

Employability sector calls to ‘mind the gap’ over funding provision

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.”

Read ERSA’s open letters to Michael Gove and Lisa Nandy.

ENDS

For further media information please contact:

Helen Wardle, Fivefold Ltd: 07757 355339 helen@fivefold.ltd

Elizabeth Taylor, Chief Executive of ERSA, is available for media interviews.

About ERSA:

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.

ersa.org.uk

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) COVID-19 Survey 2020

Frontpage.png

ERSA is continuing our work shaping and influencing UKSPF employment and skills provision. 

In the absence of a consultation this is the opportunity for the employment support sector to input and influence. Whilst developing the survey ERSA consulted DWP, MHCLG and the Department of Education. All have asked ERSA to share our findings.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) COVID-19 Survey 2020

We would like organisations to coordinate one response each please. A template of the questions can be found here for information, responses should be recorded online via the above link. 

The survey should take around 20 minutes to complete

Please share widely with your own networks. 

ERSA members wishing to join the ERSA UKSPF Working Group should email the ERSA Team via policy@ersa.org.uk