October 4, 2017 : John Downie

Third sector cut out of employability landscape

You could be forgiven listening to today’s Ministerial statement on the award of contracts to deliver Fair Start Scotland – the new devolved employment support service which will commence from April 2018 – that the third sector had won the bulk of the contracts.

Take it from me, they haven’t – but I’ve never heard so many references to ‘the third sector’ in a Ministerial statement in a long time – SAMH, Enable Scotland, Wise Group, Lennox, RNIB etc, etc.

I think more than a few would have been surprised to find themselves described as ‘partners’ of the winning bidders, particularly as while these third sector organisations have agreed in principle to be in the supply chain – depending on negotiations – they haven’t, as one large charity told me, seen the actual business delivery model. This would indicate that they’re not really ‘partners’ – and they say it’s misleading to say they are. 

At SCVO our view is clear – the third sector has been cut out of new employability landscape.

Today’s announcement is completely at odds with the Scottish Government’s stated ambitions for employability support – detailed in ‘A New Future for Employability Support in Scotland’ – and will mean that not only will these ambitions not be recognised, a near replication of the Work Programme will see 80% of the value of contracts delivered by private sector providers. The reality is that if the third sector organisations cited as partners by the Minister do participate in the delivery they will be sub-contractors.

The keen eyed and knowledgeable amongst you will have that notice that Remploy (previous an arms length DWP organisation) is cited as a ‘Supported Business.’ Now technically if more than 30% of its staff are disabled or disadvantaged it is, but as it is 70% owned by Maximus – a private sector company – I’m not sure I still consider it a third sector organisation any longer.

SCVO has consistently advocated for a personalised, local service for people as the key to unlocking the issue of employability in Scotland. Today’s announcement is a real missed opportunity and will fail to deliver, seeing those with the greatest barriers to employment neglected by private companies who will focus attention on work ready clients – providing an easier financial return in this payment-by-results model.

The Third Sector Employability Forum in its response finds it unacceptable that the bulk of any profit made from the delivery of these contracts will be distributed to investors in Germany, Australia and the US, and not reinvested in Scottish communities.

The Minister has said this is “not business as usual for employability and is significantly different” – we’ll agree to disagree on that but he has said that he will continue to “listen and consult” which is good.

I look forward to some interesting conversations.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by John Downie