Start conversations early – it takes time!
Be proactive and reactive
Fife Voluntary Action and Fife Council work together on employability in the region. As part of this, Fife Voluntary Action employ an Employability Development Manager, funded by Fife Council. This manager, Pegs Bailey, supports voluntary sector employability providers in the region. She sits on the local authority’s employability strategic group: the Opportunities Fife Partnership (OFP), ensures voluntary sector concerns and needs are represented, and shares strategic priorities and opportunities back out to voluntary sector providers.
The role was established in 2013 following an independent review that showed the voluntary sector working well in this area but that current funding and delivery was too dispersed and not well coordinated. The OFP, and in particular the then Head of Economic Development, wanted to ensure the voluntary sector was engaged as a key delivery partner in future work in the employability arena.
The local authority also ensured that, when recruiting the OFP Manager (which happened at around the same time) the post was hosted outwith the council’s own employability services thus avoiding potential conflicts of interest around funding decisions. They also recruited someone with an external background and who has taken an outward facing approach to partnership working. Pegs sees this as critical, drawing a clear distinction between supporting the partnership of all players in the services, and the delivery of those services themselves. This separation allows collaborations to work, rather than there being any conflict of interest. This allows the programme to look objectively at what will provide the best service for the end users, rather than falling back on existing provision.
In the first instance, Pegs’ role was to set up a consortium of voluntary sector employability providers (Fife Employability and Training Consortium is now the largest local provider of employability services in Fife), map the sector and identify key issues and priorities facing it. She also advocates on behalf of the sector at strategic meetings, shares information with new providers, and feeds information from voluntary sector partners back to the partnership.
Pegs works part-time and is supported by a project officer and some administrative support. The team is located at Fife Voluntary Action. They have now undertaken three rounds of voluntary sector employability services mapping, which raises the profile of the immense work done in the sector and provides credibility for strategic conversations. The mapping was funded almost exclusively through local authority funding.
Overall, Pegs’ role as local authority / voluntary sector liaison ensures more partnership working across the council area, positive relationships between the sector and the council, and good outcomes for beneficiaries of the services. This set-up has not yet been repeated in other council areas, but Pegs would highly recommend it to those councils wishing to ensure strategic employability provision across their region that uses the best players to get the results they need.