From education to employment

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.

  • Seamless transition sought as European funding set to be replaced by UK’s Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF)    
  • Call for clarity over when the UKSPF will begin and whether there will be a match-funding requirement    
  • Levelling-up strategy must reach the most disadvantaged groups and communities    
  • Focus is needed on employment, skills, social inclusion and social mobility    

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.”

ERSA’s open letter to Michael Gove and Lisa Nandy regarding UKSPF and Levelling Up White Paper:

For several months now, the employment support sector has been eagerly anticipating the
announcement of the Levelling Up White Paper which was promised before the end of 2021.

It was extremely disappointing to learn that, once again, it has been delayed until early 2022.

As I am sure you are aware, European funding has been embedded in employability provision,
helping to reduce inequalities for disadvantaged people across the UK since the 1980s. It is essential
that the concerns raised throughout this letter are addressed to stop the most vulnerable in society
from falling further behind in the labour market.

ERSA has campaigned for a successful implementation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund – writing to
the Prime Minister in July 2019 and releasing a report, sponsored by Shaw Trust and The Salvation
Army, ‘Sharing Prosperity: Building better employment support for the UK’ in November 2019. Since
the Brexit vote, ERSA has convened a UKSPF Forum that identifies and voices the concerns and
recommendations of the employment support sector.

Attendees at these forums have raised many issues with current developments, mainly regarding
clarity of when the new fund will start and if it will match previous levels of support given to the
employment support sector. The minor details that we do know concerning the UKSPF is that,
despite the Chancellor promising that the new funding would match EU structural funding of £1.5
billion per year, this will not be achieved until 2024-2025. We strongly recommend this is considered
with a matter of urgency. Similarly, the announcement of the Multiply Fund within the Spending
Review was welcomed, but this cannot squeeze the funds available for other programmes.

This is directly linked to another common concern raised at ERSA’s forums and beyond, that some
providers of important services will be lost because of this ongoing uncertainty. Subsequently, this
could lead to some of the most vulnerable in society no longer receiving the help they need. It is of
paramount importance that this does not happen, particularly in a post-COVID economy when
support is needed most.

Members of ERSA also want to know how UKSPF will be commissioned, will control be devolved, will
the Department of Work and Pensions have an allocation, or will all the key decisions will be made
by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities?

The announcement of the successful Community Renewal Fund bids was welcomed but if it is a sign
of things to come with wider UK Shared Prosperity Funding, then serious changes need to be made.

For example, as outlined by Professor Steve Fothergill, “the share of CRF awards going to the three
northern regions – North East, North West and Yorkshire – is just 27 per cent, down from 41 per
cent of EU funding.”

If UKSPF is allocated in a similar manner, then some of the areas where
employability provision is particularly needed could fall further behind.

Yours sincerely,
Elizabeth Taylor
Chief Executive of ERSA

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