Issue 6

CHRISTIE COMMISSION PRINCIPLES IN THE EMPLOYABILITY AND SKILLS SECTOR

By Jim Rafferty, Chief Executive, Capital City Partnership

The Christie Commission report reflected on what they had found in their examination of the current delivery framework across the public sector as a whole.
 
“Fragmentation and complexity

• Scotland’s patchwork of strategic authorities delivering public services is a
complex product of its political and social history, having evolved piecemeal
over many decades in response to society’s changing needs and demands.

• This complexity is reflected in inadequate strategic coordination between public
service organisations that work routinely to different objectives, with separate
budgets and processes for accountability.

• Operational duplication is rife between different services.

• Points of authority and control are dispersed widely among varied public
bodies, making joint-working and reform difficult. Collaboration often relies on the
persistence and flexibility of individual front-line workers and leaders.

• Post-devolution, divided responsibilities and policy disconnects between the
UK and Scottish Governments are evident and impact on users’ needs for coordinated services.”
 
The big policy and delivery disconnect considered here is between skills (devolved) and employment (reserved).

Scotland’s patchwork of strategic authorities delivering public services is a complex product of its political and social history, having evolved piecemeal over many decades

The Commission made a wide ranging series of recommendations aimed at achieving coherence, efficiency and integration across the full range of public services but, for the most part, within the confines of the existing institutional framework.

Opportunity

With the forthcoming referendum dominating political debate we now have an unusual opportunity to think beyond the pragmatic boundaries of the existing framework.

A key component in that debate is – how do you deal with what are currently reserved matters? Those in favour of independence (including, most obviously, the Scottish Government) or further degrees of devolution, now have to make the case for it. A key part of that case needs to be a thought through position as to how Scotland would deal with currently reserved powers - in this case employment policy and delivery.

Those who oppose independence, or indeed any further significant devolution of powers also need to articulate what they oppose, and why, and how and what we should reform whilst retaining the current constitutional mix.

Either way we all have this, possibly one off, opportunity (arguably obligation) to get out from under the usual constraints of incremental development and think in a more rounded and ambitious manner. Given a clean sheet – how would we organise the delivery of skills and employment support in Scotland? – learning from the UK experience, from the past and from elsewhere - what would a new system look like?

Given a clean sheet – how would we organise the delivery of skills and employment support in Scotland?

Employability and skills sector practitioners are routinely frustrated by the incompatibility of elements within the existing framework. We spend much of our time in the day jobs finding ways to tie together and make best sense of, at local level, the differently designed, managed and funded components of the system now in place. Given the opportunity - what would we retain from the current mix – and what could and should we change?

Current Arrangements

The existing mix of services is too fragmented, in planning, resourcing and delivery terms for any single tier of government to deal with comprehensively .
•    The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) deliver JobcentrePlus (JCP) Client Advisor services, the Get Britain Working programme and Youth Contract. They fund the Work Programme and other contracted out services and have different methods of measuring and assessing the impact of each.
•    Skills Development Scotland (SDS) deliver their own advisor services and fund and manage the contracted out Employability Fund programme and apprenticeships. Each of these, to an extent, target different clients and parts of the labour market (from DWP) and have different assessment frameworks.
•    Vocational education and training is delivered mainly through the network of Further Education colleges, funded through the Scottish Higher and Further Education Council and assessed mainly on outputs rather than outcomes.
•    Scotland’s 32 Local Authorities mostly offer some form of employability service, some extensive, some more limited, some directly delivered, some contracted and all, presumably, with performance measures determined locally to match local priorities.

Overall, the rationale for deciding what should be directly delivered (in house) and what should be contracted out is entirely unclear. Contracting processes can be inconsistent (between and sometimes within programmes) but are at least contested in some form. Directly delivered services have a degree of consistency but lack any obvious contestability and it is often difficult to see any relationship between inputs and outcomes. It is also recognized that geography can be a factor in the in-house/contracted out debate in that the contracting model may not be as good a fit in rural areas as it may seem in urban areas. In fact, generally, there has been no real deliberation as to the geography of decision making. The level(s) at which decisions are made are simply a function of the body currently responsible for making them.

In seeking to apply the Christie approach it appears to me that the key questions to be addressed are:
•    What are the main opportunities for service integration?
•    How should services be procured and/or delivered? and
•    At what (spatial) levels might both policy and delivery be best managed?

In seeking to apply the Christie approach it appears to me that the key questions to be addressed are: • What are the main opportunities for service integration? • How should services be procured and/or delivered? and • At what (spatial) levels might both policy and delivery be best managed?

In considering these issues two main obstacles (to putting together coherent, well evidenced proposals) quickly appear.

The first is the lack of comprehensive information on the scale and nature of current resources being applied. There is information available but it is not complete. What we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence is that the overall resource input is in excess of £1b annually.

The second is the absence of comparable performance information across different services - of the type which would allow government, at all levels, to make informed choices about value for money, comparative effectiveness and, ultimately, about resource allocation. There is no obvious evidence base which would allow rational consideration of what works best in which circumstances and, therefore, what choices government(s) should make to improve efficiency and outcomes.

To get past these barriers we need an enabling platform, which can only come from government and which has to encompass;

•    The establishment of a single ‘Working Scotland’ framework, incorporating both vocational skills and employment support, within one Government department -  which would allow

•    The development of skills and employment policy, the funding of services and consideration of how all of these services are delivered all to be brought together within this framework

These would be the primary, enabling measures, however if this arrangement, once established, is to actually achieve anything significant it should incorporate a presumption towards;

•    One integrated National Client Advisor Service covering all ages
•    One integrated set of contracted out services
•    The establishment of a single performance framework for all employment services whether delivered at national, regional or local authority level
•    The development and implementation of an integrated national management information service to enable the performance management task
•    A delivery framework for all services which is national in policy terms, probably regional in respect of labour market planning and funding but with clear devolution to local authority level in respect of management of advisor delivered and contracted services
•    The integration of FE college resources into this framework, recognising that this would be at the planning and policy level initially and that much work would be required to integrate the actual service delivery with other strands at local level

Positioning Within Government

An integrated service, in this form, would essentially be concerned with large scale, coherent labour market intervention and should therefore, within government, be closely aligned with economic strategy rather than with benefit reform, equalities or education where different elements of the current mix sit.

By Jim Rafferty, Chief Executive, Capital City Partnership

Issue 6

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