4. Partnership working between SG, DWP and SDS
4.1 The Scottish Government engaged DWP shortly after the Smith Commission recommended that powers over certain employability services be devolved to Scotland. They have maintained this engagement throughout the process, although the frequency and level of engagement has been variable depending at what stage development work was at.
4.2 The principles of partnership working between the Scottish Government and DWP were formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding signed in October 2016. A PraP Service Level Agreement ( SLA) between the two organisations set out more detail on respective roles and responsibilities in relation to the transitional employability services. It includes details of the referral processes for both WAS and WFS, the use of the DWP IT systems for monitoring WFS delivery and performance and the production of management information reports from this.
4.3 The Scottish Government and SDS worked together on the design and development of WAS, although again the frequency and levels of engagement between the two organisations was variable. SDS did not work with directly with DWP on the design and development of WAS – communications between the two organisations were routed through the Scottish Government or at one of the groups described in Chapter Two.
What worked well?
The relationship between DWP and the Scottish Government has developed over time and they have established increasingly effective ways of working together.
4.4 The Scottish Government and DWP both acknowledged that it has taken time to establish effective ways of working together and to understand their respective roles and responsibilities in relation to the programmes. DWP were aware that they had a lot of internal expertise that they could share with the Scottish Government and say that they were open to doing this. Respective colleagues from SG and DWP were put in touch with each other to collaborate and transfer the knowledge. However, DWP felt it was important to give the Scottish Government space to develop the programmes as they saw fit. In their view, this meant being a "critical friend", but not taking ownership of it.
4.5 DWP report that partnership working and knowledge transfer between the two organisations has been very successful, particularly at the 'official-to-official' level. However, it is noted that this is in contrast to the view of some Scottish Government representatives in relation to how successful initial partnership working between the two organisations has been. This is discussed in more detail later in this chapter.
4.6 A Question, Ideas, Issues and Concerns ( QIIC) log was jointly developed by SG and DWP for the purposes of recording issues raised in relation to WFS and WAS and steps taken to address these. In addition to being a useful mechanism for tracking queries raised, this was also cited by the Scottish Government as being a useful tool in helping the two organisations to work together effectively by establishing a process for accountability, as well as an evidence log to support the test and learn approach of the transition year.
4.7 DWP and the Scottish Government worked collaboratively on the co-production of operational guidance and materials on WFS and WAS for disseminating to JCP Work Coaches. This was reported by both organisations to have worked very well.
Partnership working between the Scottish Government and SDS worked well in the early stages.
4.8 At the start of the process, there was reported to have been very open discussions between SDS and the Scottish Government about the design of the programmes and how they should be delivered, including the potential future role of SDS. However, this was reported to have changed following Ministerial confirmation that SG would lead on commissioning and delivery of Fair Start Scotland. At this point, SDS withdrew from their role as observer on the SG Programme Board and has since been less involved in wider programme development.
What worked less well? What are the challenges?
Following some initial challenges, SG and DWP have been able to establish effective ways of working together.
4.9 As noted above, DWP reported that partnership working between themselves and the Scottish Government had been very successful, with no major issues beyond the initial stages when they were still trying to establish effective ways of working together and respective roles and responsibilities. The Scottish Government describe the early stages of the partnership working between the two organisations at operational level as being quite challenging. However, both organisations were in agreement that, following these initial challenges, they have increasingly managed to find effective ways of working together.
4.10 One of the factors reported to have underpinned the early issues around partnership working between the two organisations was that DWP routed all engagement and communications relating to the devolved programmes to go through the DWP Devolution Team. Whilst they were keen to be helpful, the team was described as not always having the direct operational knowledge required for discussions and decisions around programme delivery. This meant that they sometimes had to take information, check with others in the organisation, and then come back to the Scottish Government. This was reported to have resulted in some (even minor) decisions, and requests for information and assistance, taking a long time to get agreed. That said, from DWP's point of view, establishing a central team to lead on communications relating to the devolved programmes was perceived by DWP as a way of co-ordinating activity and engagement within a large organisation.
4.11 A further challenge that the Scottish Government faced when dealing with DWP was the very high levels of staff turnover at all levels in the organisation. This has resulted in SG having to invest time in building and rebuilding knowledge and relationships with new DWP colleagues.
SDS was not able to have direct contact with DWP in relation to WAS, which was not in keeping with their usual approach to the design and development of employment programmes.
4.12 SDS report that when they tried to establish contact with local DWP representatives to discuss WAS, members of the DWP Devolution Directorate insisted on attended the meetings. This was in contrast to the approach taken to other programmes that they deliver (such as the Employability Fund), where they have direct lines of communication with DWP at both a local and national level. The reasons for this were unclear, although it was speculated that it was due to the political context, with the DWP Devolution Team keen to have oversight of all dialogue with DWP relating to the devolved programmes.
Partnership working between the Scottish Government and SDS on the transition year programmes was reported by both organisations as having been challenging at times
4.13 As noted earlier in this chapter, partnership working between the Scottish Government and SDS on the transition year programmes was widely reported to have started well. However, over time, it was reported by both organisations to have become quite challenging. There was a view amongst some that this stemmed from Ministerial confirmation that SDS would not commission or deliver the newly devolved programmes . Over time, SDS was reported to have taken a less active role in programme development – as demonstrated by their decision to remove themselves from their role as observer on the SG Programme Board as they no longer had a direct involvement in its work.
4.14 Another contributing factor appears to relate to differing expectations around respective roles and responsibilities in relation to WAS. For the other programmes that SDS deliver, the Scottish Government is responsible for developing the policy and SDS are responsible for delivery, including programme design. There was an expectation on the part of SDS that this this would be similar for WAS, but they felt it was in fact quite different with the Scottish Government taking a much more active role in programme design. It was recognised that this was due to this being a first of kind exercise of devolved employability powers, the need for consistency and transparency in both design and delivery, and the necessary ongoing government to government relationship between Scottish Government and DWP. However, it did lead to some frustration on the part of SDS who reported that, whilst they were developing proposals for WAS as requested, due to the timescale and ongoing Scottish and UK policy and financial landscape, the Scottish Government was making decisions about programme design and funding.
4.15 SDS were also of the view that, whilst the Scottish Government were seeking guidance and input from the Advisory Group, they were also drawing heavily on the experience of DWP. This was reported with reference to both through the governance arrangements, and the secondment and recruitment of a number of DWP staff to the Scottish Government delivery team. Although, it is noted that staff from SDS were also working closely with the SG delivery team. A perceived preference for DWP funding models was reported by SDS to have resulted in further tensions between them and SG as:
- SDS were keen to draw on their own experience of delivering employment support programmes in Scotland, but their capacity to do so was limited by the Scottish Government working closely with DWP, thereby lessening the need to draw on the SDS experience of the contracting environment.
- SDS felt that, whilst they were initially asked to input to the design of the programme, SG required WAS to be aligned to the developing WFS programme, meaning that the parameters for the transitional programme were quite specific.
4.16 From a Scottish Government perspective, the usual working arrangements with SDS were not appropriate for the transition year programmes as the programmes were new, high profile and could not be considered 'business as usual'. Moreover, the Scottish Government was alert to the fact that the specific employability focus on harder to help groups and the health elements of the programme was outside SDS's usual remit, although they did not have concerns about their capacity to delivery on this, particularly as some of the key individuals working on the programme had previous experience in this area.