Where there’s death, there’s hope
A former boss of mine used to say ‘where there’s death, there’s hope’.
She was actually referring to the departure of more recalcitrant FTSE 100 CEOs who had failed to join her organisation, Business in the Community. Her belief was very clearly that where there is change, there is also opportunity and it’s down to us to grab that with both hands.
As I get older, it’s a phrase I use more and more. Not that I wish any leader in our sector imminent departure from this earthly paradise (though obviously any of them not joining ERSA has something wrong with them), but I strongly believe that change brings opportunity and that, to a great extent, we’re in charge of our own destinies, both at an individual and organisational level.
And, my, haven’t we seen some change recently? Surveying our large, robust, committed family of members, as we do, we’ve seen how an increase in uncertainty has affected organisations in the employment support sector. First, we had the announcements re the Work and Health Programme in the Financial Statement and a greater commitment to devolution than we’d seen before, next we have the apprenticeship levy with key detail still lacking. Those in the youth space are looking forward (or not) to the Youth Obligation and now we have Brexit, with goodness knows what impact on the economy and social spending in the longer term. Pile on top of that a changing array of ministerial figures and it’s no wonder so many of our leaders and other staff are searching for a certainty which frankly doesn’t exist.
The instinct of many might be to head for the hills. However, to put it frankly, if you want certainty you probably shouldn’t be in this sector. It’s never been a stable environment in which to operate and now is no different to any other time. So, where then, is the opportunity?
In my last article for this esteemed rag, I pointed at the combined authorities as the largest driving force of innovation. Since then, ERSA ran a market engagement event in Greater Manchester where the combined authority was talking about amalgamating seven funding streams under the Work and Health Programme banner. That’s opportunity.
I also met the employment lead recently for the 2018+ programme in Scotland, which is seeking to make sense of the £660 million in employment spending apparently swishing around that country, only 12 percent of which emanated from the DWP. Yes, some of that funding is ESF, but a lot of it isn’t. What an opportunity this is to focus this cash on the interventions with the most impact and the providers who deliver the best.
In London, we’re talking to the Mayor’s office about a ‘Mental Health Roadmap’ for London which has employment as one of its strands; whilst the London Work and Health Programme is again set to combine funding streams to maximise support.
And at Westminster level, we have new ministers. Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Disabilities, Health and Work, attended our awards event in London and seemed blown away, whilst we have our first meeting with the new Secretary of State in the diary. This ministerial team has a lot on their plates right now, not least the potential of an economic downturn. New faces equal new opportunity.
So, don’t think I’m Pollyanna. I know the challenges and ERSA has to be ready to rise to them. We know government has taken a wrong turn in relation the Work and Health Programme. It just isn’t big enough and we’ve commissioned some research to make that point. We’re also cognisant that we do need a strong cross sectoral alliance to safeguard social spending.
However, my point remains. Either we accept the uncertainty that exists right now and try to make something good out of that for our organisations and the jobseekers we serve or we lie down and die.
I know what I’d rather do.
Chief Executive, ERSA (Employment Related Services Association)