70.1. Short description
Birmingham developed an approach to tackling unemployment for those living in the most deprived areas, which could be characterised in two ways. Firstly, it was locality driven in that it focused on areas with high levels of unemployment (25 per cent or more) and detailed consultation took place with local welfare partners, local providers, community organisations and local councillors. Through this process the needs of local areas were analysed, existing service provision mapped, gaps in service provision identified and proposals made for additional activity to be commissioned. These Neighbourhood or Constituency Employment and Skills Plans (NESPs/CESPs) were then agreed at local constituency or strategic partnership meetings. Local Commissioning Boards oversaw the commissioning activity with the intention of selecting high-quality providers and Local Provider Forums developed the capacity of local providers to deliver interventions and supported monitoring activities. Secondly, the approach was characterised by a strong client focus, which addressed the needs of individuals (the Integrated Employment and Skills model or IES). The aim of the model was to offer a continuous service led by individual client need, which recognised that progression was often not a simple or linear process. Using this model services were commissioned strategically to ensure an integrated pathway for clients.
The NESP/CESP contracted provision tended to provide a somewhat standard set of options for employment and skills support, but the locality and IES driven approach to delivery on a city-wide scale, the development of the NESP/CESP approach and the contracting process were innovative. This was a move away from the usual arrangement of a single contract for the whole city to one with tailored contracts to meet the needs of local people. The deliberate targeting of local areas, groups and individuals was a key innovative feature of the approach. The IES model and the NESPs and CESPs provided a foundation for a focus at the client level and the provision of targeted action and support that each individual required (whether this was education, skills or employment) no matter what provider they accessed. The approach was designed to ensure that local needs were taken into account and overall contract values set at a level to allow third sector providers to tender for contracts. It also facilitated the development of a number of innovative projects to address unemployment.
Funding for the unemployment initiative came from the WNF a central government allocation to local authorities to help tackle unemployment and low levels of skills in areas of high deprivation (the Coalition Government phased this out in 2011). This was awarded between 2008 and 2011. The NESPs covered seven Birmingham wards that had more than 9 priority areas for deprivation within them and nine constituencies were the subject of CESPs (which also captured the needs of smaller clusters of priority areas lying outside key wards).
70.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The areas with the highest levels of unemployment are also usually the most deprived, by supporting people into sustained employment in those areas there should be benefits to the localities as a whole. This was a proactive drive to pursue the development of community-led, neighbourhood-specific approaches, actively engaging those individuals most at risk of unemployment and furthest away from the labour market, including the long-term unemployed, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. The IES model underpinned the delivery of the unemployment approach and focused on making changes to the way the infrastructure works, including improved partnership working and more joined-up services. The support process included employability skills to overcome personal barriers; skills support linked to existing vacancies; and support to and through sustained employment.
The key features of the IES model included:
- Improved local information to effectively target resources to the needs of a particular group or individual.
- A wide range of outreach and contact strategies to effectively engage with groups or individuals.
- A strong client-focused approach that addressed the needs of specific individuals.
- A range of interventions to address the needs of individuals.
- Client tracking to support individuals to access employment and post-employment support.
- Engaging with employers and providing bespoke training to match priority clients to vacancies.
- Continuity to ensure a joined-up approach, assurance to clients and opportunities to build on learning.
- Local unemployment champions.
NESP/CESP providers indicated that having provision available at a local level was essential for engaging with service users. Many people did not want to travel outside of their neighbourhood and so it was important to have a visible presence in the community and to use organisations potential users of the service would be familiar with.
70.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
Forty-three contracts were let to a variety of provider types: private sector; third sector organisations and consortium; and social enterprises. Individual projects specifically targeted a range of groups: the disabled, lone parents, the over 50s, those not in education employment or training (NEET), carers, women, and vulnerable clients (alcohol users, offenders, not in employment, education or training). The employment and skills support provided included making contact with clients, skills assisted planning, mentoring, subsidised work placements, support into business “start ups”/social enterprise, and English language and basic skills. There was also support to local businesses to provide job vacancies for local residents.
In terms of responsibilities for the management of the locality approach, Be Birmingham was responsible for the effective delivery of Birmingham’s Local Area Agreement and the City’s Area Based Grant including the WNF. Be Birmingham, as the Local Strategic Partnership, played a key role in bringing partners together to coordinate action on unemployment through focusing on the most deprived neighbourhoods. The Birmingham Economic Development Partnership (BEDP) was the thematic partnership responsible for the management of elements of the WNF. Responsibility for the development and approval of projects was delegated to the Employment Sub Group (ESG), which included BCC, Job Centre Plus (JCP) and Skills Funding Agency representatives. BCC was the accountable body for the funding and so processes and governance needed to comply to both Be Birmingham and BCC requirements.
The unemployment approach was largely bottom up in that priorities were identified through the NESPs and CESPs, which were then fed into a delivery plan. The ESG management team agreed the priorities and commissioned projects and activities. An appraisal panel made recommendations on which projects should go ahead for approval and the ESG approved projects (except for those over £300,000, which went to Be Birmingham for approval). The BEDP made programme level decisions and received project information. Be Birmingham received updates on performance and a BCC Cabinet Member approved projects in line with financial regulations.
70.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
As a city, Birmingham was and is highly committed to tackling unemployment, and social inclusion is high on the political agenda. The IES model was the principal means by which activity to tackle unemployment was informed and sat at the heart of the City Strategy (the core strategy to provide a 20 year framework for sustainable growth in Birmingham, with proposals to provide 50,600 new homes and deliver 100,000 new jobs by 2026) and the Local Area Agreement (steps to deliver the City Strategy). The major players in the local welfare system all agreed and signed up to the IES model, including BCC, JCP and the Skills Funding Agency. It provided a well-understood model against which to commission activity and assess performance. There was a significant amount of political scrutiny mostly related to constituencies wanting to have greater independence over spending and to be able to hold providers to account. Political involvement in the process led to some delays (and the slow start resulted in criticism within the City Council and local press) but having the engagement of local councillors also helped to embed and raise the profile of the NESP/CESP delivery contracts in their areas.
Stakeholders and service delivery organisations believed that this approach provided local support and got many people into work, training and volunteering opportunities. A number of partnerships came together for the first time, including those of different sizes and different sectors with a range of geographical and target group focus. One partnership brought together a national provider, a city-wide provider and a third sector local provider each offering different skills and expertise for supporting people into work. Many third sector providers came together solely for the purpose of delivering WNF contracts. Private sector providers also felt that their relationships with many community and third sector groups had improved during the delivery phase of the NESPs/CESPs. It also enabled projects to develop new relationships with employers, which increased opportunities for clients to access available jobs.
The IES model and local delivery approach arose out of a particular set of circumstances in Birmingham and a willingness to undertake major change. It enabled an in-depth understanding of issues for local residents where unemployment was high, provided the opportunity for different provider organisations to work together for the first time and provided an opportunity to develop small-scale innovative projects and capture learning. Key was the agreement of the BEDP partners and their signing up to the IES model. However, with regards embeddedness within the local welfare system, the locality approach currently does not operate in some of the original areas or not in the way originally intended. This was seen primarily as a knock-on effect of the loss of resources for neighbourhood management, which supported the process. There are plans to refresh this approach under the council’s localism agenda.