There has been no shortage over the years of schemes to help, or push, the unemployed into work.
From New Labour's New Deal, which offered long-term unemployed young people a choice between a job, voluntary work, education or a place on an environmental task force, to the Conservatives' Work Programme, which has involved contracting out job-finding on a huge scale, successive governments have sought to find ways of encouraging employers to give opportunities to the long-term unemployed. The benefits bill goes down, the tax take increases and young lives are rescued from the quicksand of unemployment: everyone's a winner.
That is the theory, at any rate. In reality, these schemes have met with limited success. The New Deal was branded a waste of money since the economy was growing anyway, while the Work Programme has been lambasted for being ineffective.
By contrast, Community Jobs Scotland, the scheme under which unemployed people are offered six-month paid placements with third- sector organisations, has been a genuine success. It is to receive a further £4m of Scottish Government funding, and rightly so: it will be money well spent.
Where the Work Programme secured lasting employment for only 3.6% of participants in its first 14 months (well short of the government's 11.9% target) an evaluation of Community Jobs Scotland over 2011/12 found that 40% of those who had done their placement entered employment afterwards.
This appears to bear out what has long been suspected: that if young people are given a chance at a job, they soon impress employers with their enthusiasm and commitment. Equally importantly, acquiring subsidised staff is a boost for the third sector at a time when it is facing unprecedented demands.
Local authorities and the Scottish Government have signalled a desire greatly to expand the role of the voluntary sector in delivering public services, a strategy that has resulted in charities doubling their turnover and spending over the last 10 years.
Yet, while spending may have increased, charities are expected, against a backdrop of contracting public-sector finances, to do ever more with ever less. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations reports that 42% of voluntary organisations are spending more than they earn, with smaller charities the worst affected. That is clearly unsustainable; some charities have already had to cut jobs.
Voluntary sector bodies warn that this trend ultimately puts quality at risk. Many are dismayed by the Scottish Government's public procurement bill, being debated at Holyrood today, which they had hoped would at least tackle the issue of low pay in public sector contracts, but which does not challenge the prevailing culture of cost as the priority. Expanding Community Jobs Scotland is one way for the Scottish Government to support the third sector but it must also do more to encourage local authorities to consider quality and sustainability when contracts are on the line.
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