Executive ‘dumps inclusion policy’
Pioneering scheme’s funding is facing axe
IT was the buzz phrase of the new Scottish Executive … but its commitment to tackling social exclusion has come under fire as flagship projects to help the disadvantaged back into work prepare to close for lack of money.
Scottish Enterprise is now withdrawing its backing for the New Futures Fund (NFF), which has helped hundreds of long-term jobless to return to work since it was set up in May 1998 with the backing of the late First Minister Donald Dewar and then enterprise minister Wendy Alexander.
Successful schemes run under the fund umbrella must now be ‘mainstreamed’, seeking backing from cash-strapped local councils, employment agencies, charitable trusts or other sources.
But not one of the seven projects whose funding ends in March this year has yet found ‘mainstream’ backing. Of a further 64 projects whose funding ends next year, only a handful have secured funding to continue.
NFF’s success has made it the subject of envious glances from down south, and Westminster’s select committee on education and employment described it as a model scheme. Recent figures show it has helped 3000 clients, most of whom had been living on benefits and 26% of whom had never worked. After taking part in various NFF schemes, 21% left to a job, and 12% went on to mainstream education or training. Even though the number in work had dropped to 18% after three months, the results have been hailed as extraordinary, given the client group.
Senior figures in the voluntary sector now believe the Executive has gone ‘off the boil’ on social inclusion. One said: ‘In the first term the parliament focused heavily on social inclusion. Now the attitude is much more punitive. But the principle behind it remains – if you want to tackle anti-social behaviour, what are the options for these people who are causing problems? Getting people into employment is a key way of stopping that kind of behaviour.
‘This is right at the heart of what the Executive is trying to do. Here is an excellent, successful programme and it is allowing it to be wound up.’
Another leading figure in a Scottish charity said: ‘This was something Dewar and Alexander pushed through and has been seen as distinctively Scottish. People in England have looked jealously at it in the past, but politically the will behind it has been lost. It is very frustrating because it has been a remarkable success.’
Many charities are reluctant to speak openly in the hope that projects can still be saved, but others are more forthright.
Aidan McCorry, of Apex Scotland, who sits on the advis ory management group of NFF, said voluntary organisations had been able to work with people who avoided contact with mainstream agencies, such as ex-offenders.
But two Apex-run projects in Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders are facing closure in March, because local councils and other funders will not take them on. ‘Unless the Executive says ‘this is worth keeping’, then they will be gone,’ he said. ‘People are going to be doing what we are doing now, which is scrabbling around looking for anything and everything to keep it going.’
John Dickie, of the Scottish Council for Single Homeless Youth Unit, said: ‘We are concerned that without the identification of clear funding streams for homelessness services to support people towards employment, the achievements of new futures will be lost, not replicated.’
Lorraine Baird, of the Edinburgh Campaign and Services for Homeless People charity, said staff expertise was about to be lost, as well as a service which had achieved ‘amazing outcomes’. ‘We can’t expect people who have families to care for and commitments to stay here until they are unemployed. All the money and effort involved in this work is going to be lost and we will have to start from scratch.’
Nationalist MSP Shona Robison said: ‘It is bizarre that projects meeting a clear policy objective should be allowed to come to an end and wrong to make people reliant on services only to withdraw them.
‘If projects helping the most excluded in society are to be cut, I am not sure how the Executive is going to claim it has met its objectives on social inclusion. This seems to fly in the face of that stated aim.’
A Scottish Enterprise spokeswoman said all seven projects were seeking funding, but said it had always been known that no funding would be available beyond 2005. She said: ‘Scottish Enterprise has invested £18.74m over three years to support 71 projects. All are being supported to identify funding should they wish to continue.’
Projects under threat:
Galashiels In Touch, Apex Scotland: works with offenders aged 16-25 helping them build skills. Of those who have taken part, only five have returned to prison, while 23 are in full-time employment, four in part-time work and 31 in some form of further education.
Edinburgh Campaign and Services for Homeless People: works with 16 to 34-year-olds whose homelessness is often complicated by drug or alcohol use, learning difficulties and mental health problems.
Paisley’s Straight Out project, NCH Scotland: works with 16-25s leaving prison to help them into work and away from re-offending.
New Directions, Glasgow East End Partnership: works with drug-users to build communication skills, teamwork, time-keeping, numeracy and literacy.
St Aidan’s Project, Dundee: run by the Helm employment training group – helps those with learning difficulties and complex special needs to develop the skills they require and organise personal care in order to find and keep employment.
Springboard project, Renfrewshire Association for Mental Health: works with people with ‘severe and enduring’ mental health problems who have never been able to hold on to a job or have simply never worked.
Moving On project, Apex Scotland: serves Dumfries and Galloway. Provides individually tailored support packages to help ex-offenders find work. Has achieved an 80% drop in re-offending rates among clients. The scheme needs £250,000 to continue operating beyond March.