Select Committee on Works and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Reed in Partnership Limited (OP 21)


  Reed in Partnership has delivered the ONE (North Nottinghamshire) service since November 1999, placing over 1,500 people into work, and achieving accuracy and promptness levels consistently above 90 per cent. Since the introduction of a more innovative funding model in June 2001, the service has been significantly enhanced (over 1,000 placements in 2001), which has been reflected in the results with the office now the best performing pilot over the last quarter across the range of contracted performance measures.


    —  ONE provides a more effective customer service to those accessing its services

    —  Private/Public/Voluntary partnership has been a key factor in the success

    —  The original capped funding model stifled the potential to achieve work focus, build in innovation and reward performance improvement

    —  Increased scope for innovation has greatly enhanced the service and results achieved

    —  Start-up time for contracts was too short

    —  Knowledge and skills levels required by staff were underestimated

    —  Differing IT platforms impacted on service quality and evaluation

    —  Where offices are not co-located with Jobcentres the concepts of the one-stop shop and continuity of adviser contact are eroded

    —  The short contract term resulted in loss of key staff seeking greater security which impacted on overall performance

    —  A more relaxed environment with access to internet cafe-style services, soft seating and job search areas (with telephones) is more conducive to customer service and work focus

    —  There is a need for additional specialist provision (and resources) for unemployed people with significant barriers such as mental health, severe disability, and substance abuse.

  The lessons identified have important implications for the development of Jobcentre Plus and are critical factors in the successful implementation and delivery phase. But the most important factor is the culture which underpins the way these services are delivered.

  We believe that the Private/Public/Voluntary approach is the right one, but the overall management approach and culture that the private sector brings provides the "business focus" required to maximise the innovation, staff development, understanding of business culture and results focus that will provide the customers with something different and significantly better than previous models.



  1.  ONE is delivered from five offices of which two are co-located within Employment Service Jobcentres—Mansfield, Sutton in Ashfield, Alfreton, Ollerton and Shirebrook—handling 32,000 claims per year. We also provide an outreach service to access and assist those clients who are socially excluded, and have developed a bespoke Reed Discovery Programme to assist non-JSA (Jobseeker's Allowance) clients, in particular lone parents and Incapacity Benefit clients.

  2.  North Notts is an area with many economic and social difficulties—higher than average unemployment levels, homelessness issues, drugs and substance misuse, mental health problems and a high proportion of Incapacity Benefit clients.

  3.  The area was originally built up around the coal industry, which was replaced by a prosperous textile industry. But this industry started to decline over the last few years as orders have dried up and production has been transferred overseas. This has been reflected in last two years by unprecedented levels of redundancies from the textile industry and other key employers such as those in the manufacturing sector. This has impacted on the ONE service with increased client flows and the need to deliver from employer premises.


  4.  This section provides a general assessment of the ONE model and then lists specific highs and lows of our experience to date.

  5.  The policy intention of providing all new benefit claimants with the opportunity to access appropriate help (in a proactive manner) in moving closer to the world of work has been achieved. And non-JSA clients have found the service refreshing in that it does not assume they cannot work and offers support to them. The support element for those who "cannot work" is equally as strong with expert advice given across the full range of benefits. Accessing these services from a single location has made the service even more streamlined.

  6.  The involvement of the private sector (Reed in Partnership) offers additional innovation, enhanced performance and an employer engagement culture predicated on a demand led employer approach. However, the capped contract proved restrictive and long and drawn out negotiations over output related funding proved stifling, resulting in poor outcomes and little innovation.

  7.  With ONE, from the first interview work has been put at the forefront of the service. However, when claims volumes increased due to unprecedented levels of redundancies, time constraints and a capped funding model restricted the amount of additional resource that could be invested which undermined the work-focus element in favour of process to meet output related funding targets around quality and speed of date of claim (DOC), which carried greater payment returns than job starts. Any opportunity to recover the work focus and placement results was undermined by clients being required to sign fortnightly in Jobcentres, therefore not continuing the relationship with the original PA (Personal Adviser).

  8.  ONE in North Notts has successfully delivered its objectives despite the contractual and other restrictions outlined. However, there is so much more that could be achieved with a more flexible contract approach that enables the best of the public and private sector to be harnessed effectively—as demonstrated by the results achieved since innovation funding and output related measures were re-structured.

  9.  This would require a longer contract and greater levels of funding that shares the risk more equitably, encourages innovation (not tied to outcome payments in some cases to allow learning to emerge) and reward "overachievement" when results are even more successful. This would ensure that the private sector could increase their investment in the knowledge that reward for higher performance would offset the investment made. Employment Zone contracts epitomise this approach and the outstanding results are clear for all to see.

  10.  The short contract term in itself created complications and difficulties for private sector contractors. Both direct recruits and secondees are continually aware of the period of the contract and therefore commitment to ONE varies depending upon the length of time the contract has to run. High quality staff either returned to their parent department or found other jobs in the market place, as they wanted greater security. Loss of such high quality staff inevitably had an impact on the quality of service provided and increased the financial risk to the contractor. The upside for the public sector departments was returning staff who were highly trained, as feedback from competition panels confirmed.

  11.  Lessons from implementation and delivery can feed into the Jobcentre Plus agenda—especially when reviewing the short timescales for contract negotiation, implementation and generally getting ready to deliver this complex service. This report highlights some of the lessons to be learnt and also the areas that could have been delivered differently.


  12.  Following the introduction of innovation funding and a restructured output related funding package, considerable success has been achieved through our Discovery programme for lone parents and Incapacity Benefit clients and the outreach service, leading to improved placement levels of non-JSA members. The pilot being the number one performer across the range of indicators reflects this—over 1,000 placements in 2001 and high levels of non-JSA placements including disadvantaged Incapacity Benefit and lone parent cases through our voluntary Discovery programme.

  13.  Implementation was achieved within an extremely short timescale (nine weeks from contract award to go-live). Contract negotiations proved difficult, but all parties endeavoured to find suitable solutions and it is a credit to all involved that ONE commenced on schedule.

  14.  A strong partnership approach has been achieved (and is essential) in North Nottinghamshire—the Private, Public and Voluntary sectors all play a key role in ONE delivery. It has also enhanced joint working between the five Local Authorities.

  15.  We have generated a real commitment to and passion for the ONE vision within the multi-agency team, with staff highly motivated by the opportunity to really make a difference with the new service.

  16.  The ONE service did deliver an integrated benefits and advice service from the start. The wide range of benefits that ONE covered (including Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit) provided a real `one-stop-shop' for help and support in finding work, benefits advice and a point of contact for new claimants.

  17.  Client feedback has confirmed that the service has streamlined the benefits service and provided an easier gateway for clients claiming benefits. Most clients have noted the positive customer focussed approach that ONE offered and a more work focussed and professional environment.


  18.  A capped funding model that restricted the real added value that Reed in Partnership can offer with innovative ideas and approaches designed to complement delivery—such as the Reed Discovery programme now in operation and the Explorer outreach bus. The restrictive nature of a capped funding model forced the pilot into a basic service-delivery approach that had less of the innovation originally outlined in our original proposals for the pilot. The ONE vision has not been realised to its full potential.

  19.  Performance related targets that did not produce or encourage a continuous improvement culture. In fact the opposite occurred as unprecedented redundancy levels forced the pilot to focus on the basic service around benefits advice and new claims processes—payments tied to these indicators were higher than those for job placement.

  20.  Inability to capitalise on the integrated IT solution (The ONE Application) for tracking ONE clients, storing vacancies, matching clients to jobs and enhancing the ONE service as delivered using government systems. SEMA Group was a consortium member which helped develop the IT system to be used. Application and implementation were hindered as the various systems had to be put onto separate IT servers preventing them from reading or sharing information. This had the negative effect of requiring the double keying of client records onto two or three systems, a practice that impacted negatively on the service. Future projects of this type would benefit from robust planning arrangements involving all key agencies and partners.

  21.  Our experience of delivery sites in North Notts has been mixed, dependent on whether they were co-located within Jobcentres or were stand-alone ONE office. Stand-alone offices have generally been of a poor quality and in some cases stock crown buildings that had been empty for a number of years. Also, the location of these offices has been poor, with some not in high street locations. The fact that Jobcentre locations are generally more accessible and provide the same vacancy information as the stand-alone ONE sites has made it difficult to attract clients back to ONE after their initial claim, a problem exacerbated by the fact that JSA clients are required to sign at the Jobcentre once per fortnight. This has made it harder for PAs to develop positive, ongoing relationships with their clients. In future it is recommended that the contractor undertake fortnightly signing activity, to encourage ongoing contact.

  22.  Co-located sites allow for repeat client visits to ONE staff and in cases where BA benefit processors are on site, has facilitated the development of benefit knowledge within the ONE team and the sharing of information regarding the time currently being taken to process claims and for payments to be generated. It has also been beneficial for advisers to obtain on the spot advice surrounding benefit complexities. Co-located sites would be preferable if other office accommodation is of a poor quality and not easily accessible.


  23.  With ONE, all concerned underestimated the required levels of staff knowledge and capability. Knowledge training provided by public agencies was not tailored specifically to the ONE service and proved inadequate. It appeared that training materials were not generated specifically around the ONE process design. A comprehensive training and development programme needs to be developed, underpinned by accreditation.

  24.  A flexible multi-skilled adviser workforce that can deliver the service across all roles has proved essential to the success of the pilot. However, the development of specific adviser skills aimed at assisting non-JSA clients, who have particularly difficult barriers to address, has proved effective this year. This was not possible where claims volumes were at unprecedented levels and additional staffing was unavailable outside of the pilot sites. Having a larger District based model would create greater resource flexibility.

  25.  Full participation brought new challenges with the compulsory involvement of non-JSA benefit clients. Preparations for full participation went more smoothly than original go-live of the project as experience and knowledge had increased and timescales for change were more generous. Key to successfully engaging the new client group was the involvement and education of partners within the voluntary and welfare rights sector. Group meetings with question and answer sessions were used to raise awareness of ONE and most of the fears and uncertainties were covered. A Social Review Board was set up with representatives from welfare rights groups and other voluntary sector partners to gauge how ONE was working for non-JSA clients. This group meet on a regular basis. This further strengthened the partnership within the area and provided an independent source of honest and frank client feedback to improve our service. The partnership approach provides a significantly improved service, but all parties must engage fully and understand each other's requirements as businesses in their own right.

  26.  During 2001 the main focus has been to help non-JSA clients move closer to work (whilst still improving JSA placement results). Providing a dedicated approach for this group has proved extremely positive, particularly as it is offered on a voluntary basis. As Jobcentre Plus intends to do, the ONE service strikes a balance between helping people move from benefits and dependence to work and increased independence with clear and tangible support for benefit recipients that require state support. It has clearly benefited the people of North Notts and brought together private sector expertise with the Benefits Agency, Employment Service and five Local Authorities to provide a seamless service. Providing a clear policy framework to operate within that reflects the varying needs of the client groups is essential, along with a range of partners who can bring their best abilities to each part of the service.

  27.  Marketing the ONE service to employers is difficult when they may be wishing to develop long-term relationships that extend beyond the life of the contract. ONE is also marketing a similar service to that provided by the Employment Service and employers have had difficulty in understanding the difference in service when in many cases they are the same clients and vacancies are advertised in the same way. Employer engagement needs to be more coherent and the marketing literature and approaches need to provide a more "holistic" view of the services available and how they complement each other.

  28.  The IT systems used within ONE require staff to undertake multiple entries into the various systems rather than one overarching system. The current systems, particularly the Labour Market System (LMS) fail to provide the level of management information that supports the business decision-making process. Future IT systems need to be flexible enough to run query reports determined by the user rather than the mandatory reports currently available. Service specification should drive the IT, not the other way round.

  29.  IT desktop systems also need to include Internet access for advisers so that they can provide increased customer service such as non-LMS vacancies and information on voluntary groups and specialist provision. The introduction of Job Points in Jobcentres has so far demonstrated that given enough information clients are willing to travel further to secure employment. Internet access to regional on-line newspapers and recruitment agency advertised job vacancies provides wider opportunities for clients. It would also support the Government's own modernisation, ICT and UKonline agendas. A broader range of public access systems need to be made available to support jobsearch and employment advice.

  30.  Programme provision is currently aimed primarily at JSA clients. This needs to be opened up to non-JSA clients and be delivered flexibly to meet the needs of this client group ie delivered locally, accessible to disabled people and linked to specialist provider facilities. If we wish to engage "economically inactive" clients, a broader range of provision needs to be made available that is not constrained by eligibility and duration of unemployment. Specialist provision for those with mental health, severe disability and long-term sickness needs to be significantly improved.


  31.  The benefits of the private sector include its business, performance and customer service cultures. All staff contribute to the performance and success of the ONE service. Clients are treated as true customers, and with dignity. Reed in Partnership's culture of "making a difference" is evident across all its operations. There is a work first ethic but also a desire to treat clients as individuals.

  32.  When provided with greater contract flexibility and the scope for true innovation, this performance culture and improved customer service can be clearly demonstrated by our improved job placing performance in 2001 against 2000. In the period 1 January to 31 December 2000 we placed 409 JSA and 37 non-JSA clients. This year (up to 30 November) we have achieved 1,029 JSA and 137 non-JSA clients—an improvement well in excess of 100 per cent.

  33.  The private sector also makes greater use of recognition, celebration and reward with employees to bring the best out of them. This is undertaken at all levels within Reed in Partnership with individual, team and programme awards to ensure that performance is improved and employees demonstrate the appropriate values and behaviours. As our public sector secondees would confirm, they feel "liberated" to realise their full potential through the culture and approaches taken by our business.

   We also believe that we are more innovative and able to identify and try new approaches, often within short timescales, with decisions being taken quickly through a management structure which enables innovation and effectively manages risk. This is evidenced by our Reed Discovery programme, the design of Discovery House for our members, and our outreach service, provided from a double-decker bus which had to be implemented and delivering results within two months. And most importantly, it is evidenced by the feedback from the members we are helping back into work and the employers who work with us to achieve our objectives

Kevin Browne

National Operations Director

December 2001

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