Select Committee on Work and Pensions Eighth Report

4  The strategy: a personalised New Deal and Local Employment Partnerships

A personalised New Deal

47. The In work, better off Green Paper outlines the Government's plans to introduce more "personalised, responsive support for jobseekers":

"Evidence from the Employment Zones has demonstrated the effectiveness of a more tailored approach to support, and the success of the New Deal has demonstrated the effectiveness of a strong focus on rights and responsibilities. The proposal here contains both elements.

"We want to move away from the rigid distinctions of the current New Deals between age groups and introduce a new, flexible, personalised approach for longer-term, more disadvantaged customers. We also want to tap into the experience and expertise, not only of Jobcentre Plus, but also private and third sector organisations as well as other public bodies"[48]

48. The principles of the personalised New Deal appear to reflect those of Building on New Deal (BoND), announced in 2004. This was confirmed by the Minister:

"Some of the principles of BoND are present in the flexible New Deal. Aspects of opportunities to customise can exist in relation to the City Strategy, more localised programmes which meet the needs of the groups we are most trying to reach, but that varies enormously. Within ethnic minorities, looking at the statistics of those out of work amongst the Pakistani and Bangladeshi community, I have to say their needs stand out starkly compared with other ethnic minority groups. The flexibility, the customisation there, that part of BoND is already being taken forward as part of the City Strategy."[49]

49. In June 2004 DWP announced that it would launch BoND as a pilot programme aimed at providing Jobcentre Plus customers with flexible, tailored packages of employment support. However, BoND was not piloted. In our inquiry into the Government's Employment Strategy we heard from a number of witnesses who suggested that the flexibility proposed for BoND would help more people back into work. We therefore concluded:

"there would be clear advantages in allowing greater flexibility in employment programmes to respond to individual needs and local labour market conditions. We recommend that the DWP pilot BoND, or a programme based on the same principles, as soon as possible, and also incorporate those principles into the Cities Strategy."[50]

50. We welcome the introduction of the personalised New Deal, as advocated by this Committee in a number of our reports, particularly given that this programme will incorporate the principles of Building on New Deal, the flexible employment support programme that, despite initial intentions, was never piloted.

The fate of existing programmes

51. As indicated above, the In work, better off Green Paper details the Government's intention to move away from the rigid distinctions of the existing New Deal programmes. This means that existing programmes will be replaced, but the Green Paper does not outline when these programmes will be wound up, nor does it consult on the impact of this move. Adam Sharples, Director General, Work, Welfare and Equality Group, DWP, told us:

"Part of the objective here is to rationalise and simplify, to make the offer more uniform across the country and to give that extra flexibility for advisers to work with individuals. The idea is that the new flexible New Deal will replace the two mandatory New Deals, the young people of 25-plus and in time the Employment Zones, although that will take a little bit longer, and the private-sector-led New Deals. All four of those programmes will be wrapped up into the new programme."[51]

52. It is crucial that the transition between the existing New Deals and the new personalised programme occurs as smoothly as possible, particularly as delays and uncertainty amongst Jobcentre Plus contractors have been reported to this Committee in a previous inquiry. In our report on the Efficiency Savings Programme in Jobcentre Plus, we recommended that "DWP works as a matter of urgency to review further its contracting procedures for all employment and training programmes to ensure that accountability is achieved without compromising provider flexibility, so that higher quality and more efficient outcomes are achieved."[52]

53. We welcome the introduction of the personalised New Deal but we urge the Government to ensure that the rationalisation of existing programmes is carefully planned, ensuring that there are no gaps or overlaps.

54. We are concerned that there remain a number of unanswered questions about what will happen to existing contracts for the New Deal programmes. We ask the Government to clarify the transitional arrangements and how they will impact upon customers, contractors and Jobcentre Plus staff as a matter of urgency, particularly given DWP's troubled history in this area. We reiterate the importance of ensuring that contracting procedures are transparent and encourage efficiency and accountability amongst programme providers.

Retention and progression

55. The Green Paper rightly emphasises the fact that finding employment is just the first hurdle for some people: sustaining a job is the next and often most crucial challenge. It explains that a guiding principle of welfare reform will be:

"retention and progression, not just job entry: the system must do more to help people stay in work and move up the ladder through better in-work support - through advice, financial incentives and training."[53]

56. In our report on the Government's Employment Strategy we examined the extent to which the UK's current welfare-to-work strategy focuses on retention:

"Jobcentre Plus focuses on placing people into jobs. However, it is our view that not enough attention is being paid either to ensuring that those jobs offer reasonable prospects, or to helping people remain in those jobs in the long term. In particular, the absence of targets for sustained job placements in Jobcentre Plus provision, and the definition of a sustained job placement as one lasting 13 weeks in contracted out provision, need to be re-examined."[54]

57. We reiterate this recommendation, particularly in light of the fact that whilst the Green Paper states the importance of retention and progression it does not give any indication of how Jobcentre Plus and contractors will be encouraged to support customers into sustained work. Given the absence of any proposals in this area, we were particularly alarmed that the Government is not consulting about retention and progression in the Green Paper. We asked the Minister about this, who told us:

"we should maybe have had a question in there on that […] we are thinking about […] the contract side. What outcomes do we want in terms of the contracts which will be developed? Part of the outcomes we want are not just job entry but where we should be in terms of retention for those people who go into jobs and how we do actually provide the framework to incentivise that but also assess that and get value for money. Those are some of the areas we are exploring as well as markers which might be appropriate to show our success rate for people staying on in work. We have more of a focus on that area now."[55]

58. We welcome a focus on retention and progression in the Government's welfare-to-work policy but there is little evidence that the DWP has considered in any detail how this will be reflected in providers' contracts or in the type of support available on employment programmes. There are no consultation questions in the Green Paper on this issue and we believe that the Government has missed a key opportunity to canvass the views of experts and stakeholders.

48   DWP, Cm 7130, July 2007, p 49 Back

49   Q 6 Back

50   Third Report of Session 2006-07, para 77 Back

51   Q 10 Back

52   Second Report of Session 2005-06, HC 834-I, para 278 Back

53   DWP, Cm 7130, July 2007, p 31 Back

54   Third Report of Session 2006-07, para 108 Back

55   Q 8 Back

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