THE SNP’s devolved employability service has fallen far short of its key goal of finding jobs for those who find it hardest to get work, according to an independent assessment.

A report on Fair Start Scotland found just 57 per cent of those who started it were disabled, ethnic minorities, lone parents, long-term unemployed or from deprived areas.

The target was for 86% of people to come from these groups.

Instead, Fair Start Scotland helped far more people deemed to be easier to find work, who made up 41% of all starts, against a business case estimate of just 14%. 

Fair Start Scotland was launched in April 2018 with the aim of offering “personalised support” for at least 38,000 struggling to get into the labour market.

Jobs minister Jamie Hepburn called it “a landmark moment in our journey to deliver a person-centred employment service”.

However a Scottish Government-commissioned study of the scheme’s first three years by Alma Economics found it had achieved decidedly mixed results.

It found FSS had delivered value for money, with every £1 spend on the service generating an estimated £3.60 from society’s perspective, £1.60 from a public finance perspective, and £2.60 from the perspective of the participants.

However FSS’s rosy financial performance was partly because the training services paid to help people find work weren’t earning what was expected.

Providers were paid according to how long people held down jobs - with money paid at 13, 26, and 52 weeks - but large numbers left quickly, depressing the payments.

The FSS business case expected 36% of people to stay 13 weeks in a job, 30% to reach 26 weeks and 25% to reach a year. Instead, for 2018, it was 23%, 18% and 14% respectively.

In addition, payments were based on a sliding scale, with providers being paid more to help people from the so-called “advanced” and “intense” groups into work.

These included people with disabilities, enduring mental health conditions, the long-term jobless, lone parents, refugees, care leavers and those with convictions.

The maximum fee payable for £7,083 to help an advanced category person, and £10,422 to help someone in the intense group.

However, only 33% of starts were from the advanced group, compared to a business case of 50%, and only 24% were from the intense group, against an expected 36%.

The bulk of the starts (41%) were from the more straight-forward core group, who had been expected to make up just 14%, and could earn providers £4,626 at most.

The core group included those in good health, but with literacy, numeracy or English language problems, low confidence, childcare or travel issues, debt or a conviction.

The report concluded: “Overall, Fair Start Scotland performed well in achieving value for money and a significant overall net benefit to society. It helped many participants move into sustainable jobs and did so while treating them with dignity and respect.

“However, there are areas where further improvements could be made; Fair Start Scotland could explore doing more to achieve its aim of helping people who face very high barriers to labour market entry.

"Specifically, the programme could try to find ways to reach out to and help more people with disabilities, health conditions, and long-term unemployment achieve sustainable job outcomes.”

A separate report on the FSS also found it had helped just 24% of those referred to it find work, with almost half leaving it early because they didn’t find it helpful enough.

In addition, 32,664 people had enrolled against the target of 38,000.

Scottish Labour MSP Daniel Johnson said: “These humiliating figures show leave SNP’s flagship employment scheme in tatters.

“This scheme was supposed to be a chance to transform employment services here in Scotland – but that potential has been squandered by the SNP.

“Once gain a good idea has been left to fail in their hands, leaving people without the effective employment service we desperately need.

“With thousands of livelihoods still on the line due to the pandemic, it is more urgent than ever that the SNP get a grip on employment services and deliver something that is truly fit for purpose.”

Employment Minister Richard Lochhead said: “The pandemic and ongoing restrictions have had a profound and lasting impact on Fair Start Scotland service delivery and performance, alongside the wider labour market.

"The Scottish Government will continue to invest in employability services, including more than £27 million in 2021-22 for Fair Start Scotland service delivery, allowing us to manage the anticipated COVID-19 related increase in demand for support from the most disadvantaged in our communities.

“The annual report highlights that the majority of people who get jobs will sustain them for at least 6-12 months which is encouraging and in line with the principles of the service to support people into sustainable work. The service is designed to support people with complex needs who have been unsupported through previous provision and many participants are still being supported towards employment.

“We continue to work in partnership with local government and the third sector to improve services and move towards our No One Left Behind ambitions.”