Implementation plan gains PACE

The Scottish Government is believed to be considering a major acceleration in the links between skills advice and jobs search to help people cope with the economic downturn.

The intention is to provide "a more streamlined service", bringing together skills development and employability support to minimise the time people are out of work after they have been made redundant.

The move will see a potentially significant link-up between Skills Development Scotland's 55 careers centres and the Jobcentre Plus network of employment offices - some of which, in places like Airdrie, occupy separate buildings on the same street.

An initial announcement this week indicated that a start would be made through the Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) initiative. It stopped short of endorsing "co-location" of careers and jobs centres, although talks are already understood to have been held on the issues between Fiona Hyslop, the Education and Lifelong Learning Secretary, and Tony McNulty, the Minister of State at the Department of Work and Pensions in London who has responsibility for the employment service.

The move towards greater integration is strongly supported by the First Minister's influential Council of Economic Advisers. Its first annual report in December called for responsibility for Jobcentre Plus to be devolved to Scotland from the DWP in London, as a way of "resolving tensions" between Scottish and UK policies in tackling economic inactivity. The council concluded that "the split of responsibilities between the Scottish and UK governments for employment and skills issues hinders full achievement of the participation and cohesion targets".

It added: "A key overlap remains between Jobcentre Plus and Skills Development Scotland. Closer alignment and co-ordination of Jobcentre Plus, careers services and Skills Development Scotland would result in a more effective, streamlined approach to improving labour market participation in Scotland."

The plan is also strongly backed by Willy Roe, chair of SDS. He wants to see a fuller integration of employment and skills services in a completely new service. "It's a major agenda," he says.

The Government is believed to be developing proposals along those lines to establish such a service in 10 areas of Scotland, with the rest of the country becoming involved later in the year.

The PACE plans announced this week include having 80 dedicated SDS officers working alongside Jobcentre Plus staff, backed by the enterprise agencies and the labour market intelligence of Future Skills Scotland.

Last year, the partnership came to the aid of more than 70 companies, employing 7,200 people who were at risk of redundancy. More recently, it has been into the 83 Woolworths stores in Scotland advising staff who were about to lose their jobs.

There will be a link-up between careers data and the jobs bank of Jobcentre Plus - which is updated every five minutes - while SDS aims to offer an online jobs diagnosis tool. "We want to offer the best information on what's available for learning, employment and skills, with a strong TV and online presence," says Mr Roe.

"What we're talking about is an integrated employment and skills service, co-located in some areas and unified over time. And why shouldn't that be the case? We've got the same customers.

"We don't want to treat individuals just in terms of their careers choices, but to look at them in the round, taking into account their occupational, health, family and financial situations. If, in the long term, we have a new service which will integrate all these, then we'll really be motoring."

SDS is planning an investment programme to transform the disparate services it inherited last April into what Mr Roe describes as "a service for all the people of Scotland 247, not just available Monday to Friday or at times that suit us".

The Scottish Government will host a conference on February 9 to agree an implementation plan on the PACE initiative.

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