We are now one week away from the commencement of Fair Start Scotland on 3 April.
I firmly believe Scotland should have full powers over employment and employability policy, to deliver a more joined up system for those in and out of work.
But for now, we are fully using the limited employment support powers devolved by the Scotland Act to deliver our Programme for Government commitment – to provide tailored, person centred support to a minimum of 38,000 people who are furthest removed from the labour market.
Fair Start Scotland builds on the success of our transitional services Work Able Scotland and Work First Scotland, which have been running over the past year – and are on track to exceed the ambition we had to support up to 4800 people move towards and into employment.
A full assessment of this interim year will be available in due course.
I've seen first-hand how these transitional services are delivering tailored and personalised employment support capable of making a difference to people's lives, having a positive impact on people's confidence and self esteem.
And Fair Start Scotland will deliver that same approach;
- By providing high quality employment support to unemployed people, including those facing multiple barriers who want to work and need help to enter and remain in the labour market.
- By putting people at the centre – delivering flexible, tailored support that meets their needs.
- By embedding dignity and respect, fairness and equality in our approach to helping people find work.
It will be delivered locally, by a range of service providers and their delivery partners from the public, private and third sector.
It will be delivered by providers who have committed to the principles of Fair Work - including paying the living wage and avoiding use of zero-hours contracts.
And it will ensure that people will be able to participate in Fair Start Scotland on a voluntary basis.
So I am determined that Fair Start Scotland will be about encouraging people to take the opportunity our support offers – and it won't be about threatening benefit sanctions and anyone's financial wellbeing.
Over the last three months, I have led local regional events across Scotland, to ensure readiness for Fair Start Scotland delivery.
The most striking feature to emerge from these discussions is that local government and all those who have been involved share a clear agenda to provide the best possible employment support for our people and to make sure they have access to the best possible opportunities.
During this period, we have worked closely with Fair Start Scotland providers to ensure they are ready – and have developed robust plans, processes and guidance to ensure that Fair Start Scotland delivers a high quality service to its participants.
During this period, we have also worked closely with the Department for Work and Pensions and their Job Centres across Scotland.
As the main referral route into Fair Start Scotland we have worked closely with DWP to ensure IT systems will support Fair Start Scotland referrals.
Over the last few months we have delivered awareness-raising sessions to around fifteen hundred Jobcentre Plus staff across Scotland who have demonstrated their willingness to work with us on Fair Start Scotland – and to deliver the aim of helping people find work.
I am pleased that Jobcentre Plus have already begun referring to Fair Start Scotland for our providers to hit the ground running on 3rd April.
Presiding Officer, as Fair Start Scotland begins we will do as we have done from the outset of this process.
We will continue to listen to stakeholders in the third, private and public sectors, and above all from those who use our service – to ensure that Fair Start Scotland is delivering for those who need it.
But while Fair Start Scotland is a significant development in the Scottish employability landscape, it is only a first step in a wider programme to deliver more effective and joined up employment support for people, and in our work to deliver more inclusive growth and opportunities for all.
Last August, I announced thirteen projects would receive funding from our Employability Innovation and Integration Fund. These projects involve partners collaborating at a local level to deliver new innovative approaches to join up employability support with health and social care, justice and housing services.
This morning, I visited Capital City Partnership's 'Joined Up for Jobs Integration Project' in Edinburgh - bringing together existing housing, health and social care and criminal justice services to work collectively and bring about genuine and sustainable integration with employability provision.
I was encouraged by this collaboration between health partners, including NHS link workers and public health practitioners, to explore how links between health and employability services can be strengthened and help deliver better employment outcomes for people.
This is exactly the type of joined-up, collaborative and better aligned service delivery we require.
With the launch of Fair Start Scotland, the time is right to set out a plan to better integrate and align employability support with other support and services. I am delighted to announce the publication today of 'No One Left Behind - Next Steps for the Integration and Alignment of Employability Support in Scotland'
"No One Left Behind" sets out how we will start to join up wider employability support within Scotland. It has a specific focus on integrating employability support with health, justice, and housing services - areas that are critical to enable better support for people furthest removed from employment.
"No One Left Behind" sets out the actions that we will develop and implement collaboratively with our partners.
Action to work with local government to improve alignment of employability provision at a local level.
Action to focus on helping more people who are released from custody to find employment and preventing a return to criminal activity by working with the Scottish Prison Service to develop new routes into employment services that will help support more people with a conviction to find and sustain work.
And action to pilot a Single Health and Work Gateway in Fife and Dundee – providing a single point of contact for different services for those at risk of falling out of work or who have recently left work due to ill health. The pilot will achieve better integration of healthcare and employability support so people with disabilities or long-term health conditions – including mental health conditions – will benefit from a service that more closely matches their needs.
I want to be clear though. The measures I have set out today are just the start of a wider programme of work to better integrate and align employability services. This includes engaging with people and organisations to discuss the future of the employability system in Scotland, to identify where we can make a real difference to the delivery of more flexible, person-centred and joined-up system.
Our review of what we have in place will focus on the resources the Scottish Government invests in the employability system and I want to make sure that our investment best meets our shared ambitions and that it is responsive to a changing labour market.
It will be driven by the views and experiences of service users and those frontline teams delivering services. I look forward to being involved in many of those conversations over the next few months.
The work to deliver the actions I have laid out in "No One Left Behind" will begin now. A Delivery Group will monitor the progress made and I will keep Parliament up to date on our initial activity by the end of this year, and going forward by publishing an annual report showing progress against that plan.
Presiding Officer, the launch of Fair Start Scotland is an important milestone in utilising the powers of the Scotland Act in delivering employability support.
Our transitional services have been a success. With our planning and preparation for Fair Start Scotland, I am confident that it too will be a success and will deliver for the people of Scotland.
And the work this Government will take forward through "No One Left Behind" will begin the process of joining up employability support and deliver better employment outcomes for people across the country.
Our opportunity to deliver a distinct and more aligned system of employment support in Scotland begins now. It is an opportunity I am determined we make the most of.