For a generation, the shortage of skills, from construction to science, technology, engineering and maths, has undermined UK productivity and economic growth. The challenges of an ageing population and rapid technological developments require us to think differently about lifelong learning and how to more effectively tailor services to meet a broader range of needs. But more pressing is today’s very human problem – a lack of skills remains one of the greatest barriers to opportunity.
Whether it is the 700,000 young people in the UK not in education, employment, or training, the one in four former prisoners who return to prison rather than to employment, or the record numbers of people who are economically inactive, there is a common thread: traditional public services are failing to achieve real change. But there is a solution, and it is as simple and obvious as it is radical. Instead of providing one-size-fits-all services, put the person at the centre and organise the service around them.
Social Outcomes Partnerships are a means of providing the personalised, asset-based and holistic support needed for people like Jake (not his real name). He was due to be released from prison on Christmas Eve with no home and no job to go to, and would most likely have become yet another rough sleeper. Instead, Jake was referred before his release to this new type of service. The Kirklees Better Outcomes Partnership (KBOP) set out not just to put a roof over Jake’s head but to open the door to a successful future.
Too often traditional public services focus on immediate or isolated interventions in place of a holistic plan, failing to address the root causes of problems like homelessness or criminal activity, such as a lack of skills and poor employability. Had KBOP been a traditional housing service, its priority would have been providing supported accommodation that would have restricted Jake’s ability to work. But KBOP listened to his long-term aspirations to return to employment and re-engage with his young family. They used his drive to turn his life around as the motivator for doing things differently – KBOP funded his Construction Skills Certificate, purchased site equipment so he could get a job, and provided a bond for the deposit on his privately rented accommodation. Instead of giving him what a service might have assumed he needed, KBOP supported Jake to lead his own resettlement and journey to sustained independence.
For complex social issues, Social Outcomes Partnerships such as KBOP offer a more effective, better-value way to deliver public services. Unlike traditional “pay-for-inputs” where the the public sector pays service providers regardless of whether outcomes are achieved, or “payment-by-results” models, which incentivise tick-box activities and quick wins, the outcomes approach focuses on meaningful positive milestones. Without the constraints of detailed specifications or artificial key performance indicators, Social Outcomes Partnerships enable collaborative design and tailored, personalised care, making them particularly effective for individuals who would fall through the cracks of the current system.
Importantly, Outcomes Partnerships can adapt to evolving issues rather than being tied to activities everyone can see aren’t working. Take the Department for Work and Pensions’ recent Restart scheme, which was supposed to help long-term unemployed people back to work but cost more and delivered less than expected – the restrictive contracts didn’t allow for the necessary adaptation and tailoring of services to respond to the realities of delivery, which were quite different to the theory of their design. People aren’t single-issue, and nor should our services be. We should bring skills into housing, refugee and domestic violence services, and we should consider the whole person when seeking to improve their skills.
Under the Social Outcomes Partnerships model, social investors including government, philanthropic foundations and pension funds’ place-based allocations provide the upfront delivery funding for a consortium of specialist, local delivery partners. They are paid back only when pre-agreed meaningful outcomes are achieved and evidenced. How those outcomes are reached are for the front-line delivery experts to determine, in collaboration with the people they are supporting, resulting in more effective services and more sustained outcomes.
The UK’s leading social impact investor, Big Society Capital (BSC), has invested alongside others in many Social Outcomes Partnerships, including those delivered by Bridges Outcomes Partnerships (BOP), which have achieved incredible results. In Greater Manchester, Outcomes Partnerships addressing long-term homelessness reduced rough sleeping by over 60 per cent over three years at 70 per cent lower cost than comparable services delivered by traditional contracts. In London and East Anglia, outcomes-based family therapy delivered an average 25 per cent better outcomes for 80 per cent more families at 20-50 per cent lower cost per family, keeping more children safely out of care. An independent analysis for BSC – Outcomes for All – of ten years of Social Outcomes Partnerships found that for every £1 that government spent paying for outcomes, the projects had delivered £10 of social, economic and fiscal value, including £3 in direct budget savings.
There is growing evidence that high-quality, holistic, person-centred services are not a luxury, they are an investment which pays back. So BOP and BSC are calling on the next government to expand the use of Social Outcomes Partnerships when personalised services are needed, and to think about the skills agenda more holistically. A future Labour government should remove restrictive, outdated procurement and budget rules that hamper long-term decisionmaking. Instead, Labour should give local authorities the freedom and flexibility to invest in preventative, person-centred services that achieve better outcomes and ultimately reduce costs in the long run. By focusing on outcomes, Labour can liberate frontline experts to use their expertise as they know best – to truly help people.
Effectively dealing with our skills crisis will achieve positive results for public spending, productivity and the economy. But fundamentally this is a human issue – too many people are simply unable to achieve their potential, trapped in systems beyond their control. This model of personalised, asset-based and holistic support offers hope for those who have too often been abandoned by the state or considered beyond help. It is a model with people at its heart.
This article first appeared in our print Spotlight report on Skills, published on 2 February 2024.