Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 14

Memorandum from the Public and Commercial Services Union

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is by far the largest union in the Employment Service with over 22,000 members and in the civil service and related areas with over 260,000 members. PCS is an all grades union representing members from basic and administrative grades through to senior management grades.

  2.  PCS particularly welcomes this inquiry as we represent New Deal Advisers and have consistently supported a public sector run and delivered New Deal since it's first pilots in 1997/8. As our evidence to the Sub-committee's inquiry in the Employment Service in 1999 made clear we welcome the change of emphasis the New Deal has given the Employment Service giving it a "service rather than policing" culture. However PCS does have some specific concerns, many surrounding the private sector delivery of the New Deal.

How successful has the New Deal for Young People been in moving clients into sustainable employment?

  3.  Obviously for the New Deal to be considered a success it has to deliver real sustainable jobs. When the New Deal was first introduced New Deal Advisers were encouraged to take a long-term view of the clients needs and aspirations. The emphasis was on tailoring the programme to suit the individual with a goal of delivering sustainable employment.

  4.  However, PCS is concerned that the introduction of new targets in the Employment Service does not support the emphasis on job sustainability. The new targets include individual job placing targets for New Deal Advisers (Core Performance Measures A and Employment Service APA 1). The emphasis appears to be on any job outcomes, rather than finding the right career path for the individual. Many New Deal advisers are concerned that short-term job placing has overtaken the initial long-term approach since the introduction of the new targets. This means in practice that, for example, the use of the Full Time Education and Training option can be discouraged in favour of a potentially short-term job. Clearly a training course can often be more beneficial in the long-term.

  5.  Many of the New Deal courses are not traditional "student" courses—they are practical computer courses, admin courses etc. The benefit of this option to the client is that previously an individual would not be able to claim benefits while training so many were excluded from training for financial reasons. PCS is concerned that it is a short-term policy to discourage use of this option.

  6.  Generally New Deal "churn" arises when clients are pushed into short term employment without prospects, ie we see the same people over and over again. The Employment Service are piloting targets on sustainability, and sustainability features in the payment to contractors—however in many cases three months is too short.

  7.  PCS believes to overcome this problem where should be more flexibility in certain circumstances for clients to remain on both Gateway and Options longer than the prescribed times. New Deal Advisers have described to us the inflexibility of the Gateway as a major problem for them trying to do their jobs. For example, a well documented problem is the availability of training courses—at many times during the year several courses (which may be of benefit to a particular client) are not available. If a client's Gateway falls during a period like this then he or she may be forced to do something inappropriate, again leading to "churn".

  8.  Furthermore, clients with severe problems such as drug related problems fall into a particular trap as they are unlikely to solve these problems within a short timescale. Again, sustainable employment is unlikely without flexibility in these cases. We would recommend that Local Office Managers are given authority (written into a guide reference) to grant flexibility in certain deserving cases. In many ways the compulsory nature of the programme can reinforce all these problems.

  9.  For people with disabilities, work preparation is an excellent routeway to a sustainable job yet it is not allowed during Gateway or from New Deal budgets. Disabled People's are being disadvantaged before and during New Deal for the reasons stated and because there is not enough money in the rehab budget.

What have been the key factors influencing the New Deal successes and failures?

Successes

  10.  The PCS believe that the main factor influencing the success of the New Deal is the quality and experience of the Employment Service New Deal Advisers. This has been recognised by many, including ministers and the Employment Select Committee. Recommendations to continue this high level of achievement include;

    —  A review of caseload sizes to allow staff to do a thorough job with each client. Again, NDA's have reported to PCS that caseload sizes are a major problem for them. This has been reported to the Employment Service management at several meetings and they have promised us that they are doing something about it. We have yet to see any proposals for change.

    —  Staff turnover has been identified as a major problem. To deal with this the Employment Service management need to look at the reasons for turnover. Some suggestions are:

      —  a return to a client focused approach rather than one based on targets;

      —  a comprehensive review of the grading structure;

      —  development and increased pay for NDA's needs to take place; and

      —  as (previously mentioned) increased flexibility would go a long way to empowering NDA's to achieve sustainability and reduce staff turnover.

  11.  We should also make the point that the Employment Service's advisory resource does not allow support in employment that is offered by external contractors on New Deal and ONE. In addition New Deal advisers must be allowed to get out also to monitor the employer and other options.

Failures

  12.  In areas of high unemployment, it is often the case that job availability, training availability and other key problems such as drug abuse influence the performance of the new Deal Unit of Delivery. Performance targets and analysis should take account of these particular problems. Performance should be measured across the country and it should be recognised that some areas will not perform as well as others. That is not to say that best practices should not be shared across the country. However, it is wrong to suggest that some Units of Delivery, such as in the North East, are performing worse than others given the state of the Economy in those areas. Many of the jobs available in these areas are part-time, short term and low paid vacancies. It is therefore no surprise if sustainability of jobs is affected or if more people chose the Full Time Education or Training as an option. We would recommend a review of performance measurement and flexibility.

  13.  PCS is also concerned that some of the failures of the New Deal can be attributed to the involvement of the private sector, rather than the Employment Service, in its delivery. While it is unfair to brand all the private sector delivered areas of the New Deal as failures in PCS's view all the private sector delivers of the New Deal have experienced at least some difficulties.

  14.  The performance of private companies in New Deal has been repeatedly exposed by the PCS. In 1998, for example, performance figures for the PSL Pilot in Hackney and City were appalling. For December of that year figures suggest only 11 subsidised placings were achieved against a target of 425! In January of 1999 this Unit of delivery was 141st out of 142 in the national performance "league table", a position which did not improve for some time. (As an aside PCS is forced to ask why was the company involved given the contracts to run ONE and Employment Zone pilots?) Creeping privatisation of this nature is of obvious concern to the Union and it's membership.

  15.  York Consulting Limited were given the contract for an interim evaluation into the New Deal which was published in August this year. Although the report suggests performance in the Private Sector Led Areas (PSLs) has improved, there is a serious question as to whether the comparison between PSL's and the Employment Service Led Units of Delivery is a fair one. Indeed, the report suggests that such a comparison would be too simplistic. For example, a rationale exists that the private sector may offer "more innovative delivery". Unlike the Employment Service, however, PSL's can negotiate different levels of subsidy with employers. Examples are given where mopeds have been bought for clients to get them to work. Speak to any Employment Service New Deal Adviser and they would tell you that they would love to have flexibility like this. The Union believes therefore that the starting point for such an evaluation is not a "level playing field", and any genuine evaluation must take account of the unfair bias towards private companies.

  16.  The report by York Consulting Ltd does not indicate the PCS that there is any added value in using the private sector instead of the Employment Service. While they do hail the private sector as being more responsive, having good empathy with clients and being more "job-focused" other papers, including those written by Ministers, have indicated clearly that the success of the New Deal is down to the hard work and professionalism of the Employment Service New Deal Advisers.

  17.  There is also a commonly held view that the performance of the private sector would be much worse without the current level of Employment Service support. Because of the complicated funding mechanisms involved, the report concludes that it is very difficult to measure the cost effectiveness of delivery in the PSL's. Again PCS would argue that the private sector has not demonstrated any "added value", and that the work should therefore be left to the experts!

How effective and comprehensive has the Government's programme for evaluating the New Deal been?

  18.  The suggestion that a full evaluation of the Private Sector Units of Delivery should be welcomed. As stated above, the PCS believe that the current published study is limited in value. We believe that statements made by private companies have been taken at face value and have not been independently scrutinised. We feel that an analysis should take place of the "added value" on the private sector compared to the public sector and that claims of "innovation" should be very closely scrutinised.

  19.  The definite impression our members have in the Employment Service is that the Private Sector Led Units of Delivery will be made to work and will be given as long as is necessary to do so. Clear definitions of what "added value" means are necessary. Value for money and costs (including "hidden costs") should be considered and compared. In the Employment Service there are clear processes for performance validation. This does not seem to be the case for the Private Sector which suggests we are not competing on a level playing field. A detailed examination should be made into unsubsidised placings.

How have lessons from the New Deal for Young People informed the development of other strands of the New Deal?

  20.  The comment we have here is that Gateway and compulsion have been introduced to the 25 Plus scheme. PCS has doubts as to the merit of this, because previously the programme may have been more attractive and therefore encouraged genuine participation. Generally we are opposed to more compulsion. The introduction of more targets for job placing eg for Lone Parent Advisers may well lead to more stress for advisers and less job sustainability for clients.

What changes are planned for the design and delivery of the New Deal and what benefits, if any, are they likely to bring?

  21.  As previously discussed, New Deal Personal Advisers are the most important resource for the successful delivery of New Deal. PCS has had discussions with the Employment Service management about the pressures of work NDA's face. They indicated to us that the Employment Service Board were alarmed by the findings of both PCS studies of the issue and the results from the latest Staff Attitude Survey in the Employment Service. As yet, despite promises we have not received any formal proposals on how they intend to deal with this very serious issue.

  22.  Clearly we would like to know what they have in mind and would like to be involved in the process. This is especially important as we are aware that ministers have taken an interest in the role of NDA's and the pressures they face. There should also be a review of the allowances paid to FTET clients.

Public and Commercial Services Union

November 2000


 
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