Developing Strong Working Relationships with Jobcentre Plus

  • By Jane Harrison

A lot of work has gone into developing borough and Jobcentre Plus (JCP) relationships that has resulted in some mature and effective partnerships. However, not all have reached that state and against a backdrop of up-coming challenges, such as the introduction of Universal Credit and a further reduction to the benefit cap, some relationships will need to develop further to support local people. A review was conducted to increase the level and improve the nature of partnership working between the boroughs and JCP. This briefing outlines the findings of the review. 

 

Overview

JCP provided a secondee to London Councils to undertake a review that aimed to increase the level of and improve partnership working between the boroughs and Jobcentre Plus (JCP) in London. The review aimed to ensure working practices between JCP and the boroughs are systematic, reduce duplication and result in better employment outcomes for Londoners.

The following JCP activities were reviewed and received recommendations. [1]

  • Flexible Support Fund (FSF) – FSF funds small interventions that can overcome barriers to work (for example childcare costs, travel, equipment, bespoke training); it is also used to buy services complementary to mainstream provision where there are gaps in the JCP offer. 
  • Troubled Families Employment Advisers (TFEAs) – this is a JCP service co-located with borough Troubled Families teams aiming to provide complementary back to work support. 
  • Benefit cap - Since April 2012 JCP and London boroughs have been supporting claimants affected by the benefit cap to ensure they receive the help they need to move closer to the labour market where possible, as moving into employment is the best route out of poverty. 
  • Partnership working and agreements - partnerships agreements between JCP and every London borough were introduced in London and the Home Counties JCP Group two years ago. The aims of the agreements were to focus on specific claimant cohorts and look at how joint action could be taken to reduce unemployment.

The findings discussed in the analysis section are the results of discussions with a wide variety of JCP partners, a survey of boroughs, visits to borough job brokerage services and input from sub–regional partnerships and providers of employment services.
There were a number of areas of good practice, including: 

 

  • TFEAs embedded in family intervention teams with youth offending and family services.
  • Numerous examples of close partnership working, especially at operational level with JCP Partnership Managers. Partnership Managers are in general experienced and have been working with the same boroughs for a considerable time. This has led to established and mature working relationships. 
  • JCP/borough working in partnership was critical to the success in providing employment support to people affected by the benefit cap. Partnership working provided a seamless service and excellent joint targeting of households.
  • Some strong evidence of cross-borough working and JCP partnerships in relation to Universal Services – delivering locally (US-dl), such as in Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark where they have carried out extensive mapping of pre-Work Programme provision.
  • However there were also a number of challenges [2]:

FSF and cross borough working

 

Challenges: 
•    The FSF process operates within JCP boundaries and consequently does not always match growth areas across boroughs.
•    Lack of clarity around the support that is being commissioned. 
•    Provision does not always meet the customers’ needs.

Recommendations:
1.    There needs to be a clearer understanding of provision that JCP procures through the FSF to ensure local provision adds value. Boroughs and JCP should work together to identify gaps in local provision that FSF should fill. 
2.    There should be more focus on filling the right provision, not pushing what is available. Feedback from the boroughs suggested that specific opportunities were being pushed, yet this support perhaps did not always meet the customers’ needs.
3.    JCP should involve boroughs in co-commissioning of FSF, where appropriate. 
4.    FSF should also be used flexibly across borough/JCP boundaries and in future should be used across groups of boroughs.

Benefit cap 

 

Challenges:
•    Co-location between boroughs and JCP is helpful and works well, however software and skills need improving for outreach/co-located staff from JCP.
•    Lack of knowledge of family circumstances and/or network support and interventions can lead to inaccurate assessment of needs by JCP advisors (and others across the network), which in turn can lead to inaccurate support packages and at times unnecessary use of sanctions.

Recommendations: 
1.    Improved data share, on scans/assessments and review. 
2.    More co-location is needed, in the right place, with people with the right skills, such as an overview of benefit knowledge. These JCP staff should receive up skilling on welfare reform and an overview on benefits to enable advice to be given, prior to co-location with boroughs. 

Troubled Families Employment Advisers

 

Challenges: 
•    Some borough structures prohibited wider council services from knowing about TFEA support e.g. social services in one borough were unaware of the service. 
•    No clear guidance on data sharing arrangements; therefore JCP/DWP staff and boroughs are wary of breaching security guidelines. 
•    No evidence was found of regular joint networking meetings with JCP/Communities and Local Government/boroughs.

Recommendations: 
1.    Establish a Senior Leaders Quarterly Networking Meeting which would be attended by borough directors, JCP district managers, work services director, to discuss areas of good practise/hotspots.

Partnership working – relationships, forum and boards

 

Challenges:
•    The high level of staff turnover in JCP has meant it is difficult to establish strong relationships with boroughs. This results in a lack of consistency at boards and forums and the changes in approach by JCP that causes concern. The high level of turnover has made it difficult to build effective working relationships between boroughs and JCP. 

Recommendations

  1. JCP to quickly and clearly communicate changes in key JCP personnel to boroughs.    
  2. More cross-borough/district networking is needed to improve communications and provide consistent attendance at meetings at a strategic level. Use of the current borough sub-regional groups would provide a helpful vehicle for JCP.

Partnership agreements

 

Challenges: 
•    The quality of the agreements varied – for some, objectives were not always reviewed or action planned, and they contained few or no measures. Some were not strategic, measurable and with no buy-in from other key stakeholders, such as colleges and Work Programme providers.

Recommendations:

  1.  JCP to consider its approach towards developing partnership agreements with boroughs in the future. This should be consistent across London with specific action plans, review and evaluation. Agreements need to include key stakeholders, such as Work Programme providers, colleges and voluntary sector organisations. 
  2. The future partnership agreements with boroughs should encompass the social justice agenda, in particular with Troubled Families as a high priority in terms of working practises, alongside collaboration on Section 106 vacancies etc.

 

Commentary

The review shows partnership working is improving, although it is still patchy in some areas.  Relationships at a strategic level are hindered by the churn within JCP, and could be improved with better handling of communications. 

The implementation of partnership agreements has been a significant factor in improving the way in which gaps in local provision are being jointly addressed. Relationships at operational level are in the main excellent, with JCP Partnership Managers playing a key role. Co-location, initially on the benefit cap, now with secondments focusing on the wider welfare reform agenda will be increasing important given the introduction of Universal Support and boroughs’ role in supporting the most vulnerable claimants. Best practice and learning from the Universal Credit pilots in London should be shared.  London Councils is also considering more systematic physical co-location of JCP by proposing the integration of JCP Work Coaches into local authority teams.  

It is especially important, given debates around devolution of employment support, that JCP recognises and works with London boroughs to work across boundaries and develop partnerships beyond single local authorities. Some of the recommendations to improve JCP and borough alignment are already underway, for example two pilots in West and East London are looking at co-commissioning Flexible Support Fund across borough boundaries and JCP districts. This type of activity and flexibility from JCP is likely to become more important as the devolution debate intensifies. 

London Councils is now considering an action plan with JCP to take the relevant recommendations forward. 

1 Other areas were reviewed but did not receive recommendations so are not referenced in this briefing – for further information, please download the full report

2 Not all the recommendations are listed in this member briefing. For a full list of the recommendations please see the full report

 

 

 

Jane Harrison, Principal Policy Officer