Work and Pensions CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Prospects

1. Background

1.1 Prospects is a leading education, employment and training services company, working nationally and internationally. We estimate we help more than one million people each year, through an extensive range of high quality services. We are one of the first and largest new public sector mutuals, with shares owned by managers and staff.

1.2 Our services include:

Careers services for adults and young people, including the face-to-face element of the National Careers Service in three regions.

Advice and guidance for offenders in Greater London and Yorkshire & Humber, delivering the “in custody offer”.

Youth Justice Service in Gloucestershire.

The Work Programme, the government’s major initiative to help long-term unemployed people back to work, in the South West and London.

Ofsted Early Years Inspection Services in the Midlands and North of England.

Youth Contract, targeted support for NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) young people in the West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber.

An extensive range of education consultancy and school improvement services.

1.3 We are also widely recognised for expertise in event management, recruitment, community regeneration and educational resources. Gabbitas, one of the most trusted names in independent education, is part of the Prospects Group.

2. Introduction

2.1 This note from Prospects is in response to The Work & Pensions Select Committee Inquiry into Jobcentre Plus.

3. Summary

3.1 There is variation in the quality of referral information received from JCP, and in the consistency of relationships with local authorities across the Contract Package Area. Information is not shared by JCP on how some spending decisions are made.

3.2 Relationships between JCP and our Work Programme Advisers have been improved through more collaborative styles of working in some areas

3.3 JCP’s approach to sharing information about conditionality and sanctions is variable and needs to be improved.

3.4 Where co-location has been introduced there has been a significant improvement in relationships between JCP and Work Programme advisers, and establishment of regular case conferencing and sharing of information.

3.5 Our experience of using Universal Jobmatch has been mixed. We have found a lack of precision in matching against required skills, and in the automated alerting system, where active jobseekers have wrongly received messages telling them they had not been looking for work.

3.6 JCP staff have engaged positively with our workforce to ensure advisers are well-briefed. We have been assisting and signposting customers towards web-based information about the changes.

3.7 There appears to be a high degree of autonomy at District and local level resulting in inconsistency of approach in relation to Work Programme and other programmes. There is a cultural disjoint between DWP and JCP, where policy and operation are at variance, and this reinforces the inconsistency.

4. JCP’s employment services, including: approaches to identifying jobseekers’ needs and barriers to employment; the effectiveness of the “Get Britain Working” measures; JCP’s role as a gateway to contracted-out services such as Work Choice and the Work Programme, including processes for referral and handover; JCP’s use of the Flexible Support Fund, including how spending decisions are made and evaluated; and the effectiveness of JCP’s relationships with other key stakeholders, particularly local authorities

4.1 Identification of jobseekers needs and barriers to employment are not always clear or disclosed consistently across the Contract Package Area. They are communicated via PRaP to providers and the information quality varies considerably. Information can be out of date and does not always include details relating to what the jobseeker has undertaken previously. This can make our initial meetings with the sae customers more difficult. By contrast, sometimes PRaP information provided has been very robust. There have been occasions where we have requested from JCP further information and our requests have been denied, where customer consent has not been obtained.

4.2 Some JCPs have been very supportive, conducting three-way reviews in order to share information and enhance the customer journey. There have been some improvements in communications with local JCP offices, particularly in Devon who have championed more collaborative working, and advisers are co-located in JCP offices. This has had a positive impact on performance.

4.3 JCP do not readily share how spending decisions are made and evaluated in relation to the Flexible Support Fund.

4.4 JCP relationships with local authorities are not consistent across Contract Package Areas.

4.5 JCP advisers are now much more proactive when discussing customers about to be referred to the Work Programme. Relationships have been improved through advisers visiting some centres to discuss customers on programme.

4.6 We have a lot of customers who are referred to the Work Programme when they need specific help—such as Enterprise Allowance, which they had not received from JCP.

5. JCP’s role in relation to the rights and responsibilities of benefit claimants, including: the effectiveness of benefit conditionality, particularly job-seeking conditionality and the mandatory “work-focused interview”; and the level and appropriateness of JCP’s use of benefit sanctions, including differences of approach between JCP Districts

5.1 Jobseeker’s Agreements are not always contained in the PRaP referral information.

5.2 It would appear from discussions with staff across the Contract Package Area that some staff in Job Centres are very good at keeping jobseekers informed of benefit conditionality—and subsequent referral of jobseekers to contracted out provision. However, this is not always the case and therefore needs to be improved. Conditionality isn’t specified in referral documentation, and this is problematic. Recently we have found that local JCPs have shown they are more willing to revisit and clarify questions of conditionality with their customers.

5.3 We do not have access to data of how many sanctions are allowed or disallowed locally but believe that invariably decisions are made in the customers favour. It is unclear whether this process is effective or not.

5.4 Communications with Providers and staff are not consistent about any use of benefits sanctions which have been applied to jobseekers. However in geographical areas where co-location has occurred the experience is very different with regular case conferencing and sharing of information.

5.5 Customers generally seem fully aware of their rights and responsibilities, and we enforce this when customers are on the Work Programme. Customers are aware of our knowledge as well.

6. Supporting a flexible labour market, including: JCP’s effectiveness in matching jobseekers to suitable job vacancies, including through the introduction of Universal Jobmatch; whether JCP is sufficiently focused on sustained job outcomes as well as off-benefit flows and how this is, or should be, measured; and employers’ assessment of the effectiveness of JCP as a recruitment partner

6.1 There has been a real push on providing our local offices with information and training particularly on Universal Jobmatch. Some of the JCP offices have an expectation that Work Programme providers should be responsible for setting up all customers on Universal Jobmatch. Complaints are directed to our local Team Leaders by JCP if a customer is signing on and hasn’t yet been set up on Universal Jobmatch.

6.2 Our own experience of using Universal Jobmatch as a recruiter was not positive. Many unsuitable candidates were matched to our vacancies. 73 candidates applied via UJM but only 18 completed application forms. We interviewed 12 and four were successful. Our view is that “off-flow rates” are discussed more than “sustained jobs”.

6.3 Advisers are able to match customers with vacancies, however the Universal Jobmatch system is not very effective as it doesn’t always seem to match by the appropriate skills or areas of work. There are also some issues with the system generated instant messages. Some of our customers has received messages stating “You have not looked for work” when they have clearly been active. This has been reported to JCP at a quality meeting.

7. The impacts of benefit reforms, including: the implications for JCP staff roles of the implementation of Universal Credit, including the skills staff will need in order to offer effective in-work support; changes to staff roles brought about by the move to “digital by default”; and plans to support claimants affected by the benefit cap

7.1 This is difficult to comment on. Prospects has local centres, which have taken responsibility for ensuring our customers are prepared and equipped for dealing with any changes that will affect them.

7.2 There has been a positive engagement with our staff over informing and including them in briefing events relating to Universal Credit, “digital by default” and the full range of benefit reforms.

7.3 We have been delivering more ICT courses and signposting people towards web-based information to assist with their understanding of the changes and personal implications. Significant welfare reform is being implemented and clearly staff need to be fully conversant with the information to be able to discuss changes to the affected customers.

8. The governance of JCP, including: whether ending the executive agency status of JCP, and bringing it under the central control of a single DWP Chief Operating Officer, has brought about efficiencies and streamlined management as intended; and the potential for more radical future changes to JCP

8.1 This is difficult to comment on. Our observation would be that at times it appears as though JCP is a different agency with tensions between DWP policy and JCP operations.

24 May 2013

Prepared 27th January 2014