I ran the Future Jobs Fund.
For most of 2009 and a large part of 2010, I pretty much lived, breathed and slept FJF. I wasn't the only one, of course. In the end I was heading a team of about 25 civil servants. We designed the criteria for the Fund, promoted it to bidders, assessed bids, designed the grant agreement, awarded grants (over 300 in all), supported people to share learning, and did all the work on grant management, compliance and validation.
In all, we disbursed over £600 million and created 105,000 new jobs. I am hugely proud of what we achieved, and of all those who achieved it.
Although I ran the Fund, I didn't create the jobs. They were created by people like Groundwork (6,000 of them, working with the National Housing Federation); Shaw Trust; the Scottish Wildlife Trust; the Royal Opera House; the Football League Trust; Action for Chidren; Age Concern; New Deal of the Mind; the Network for Black Professionals… As well as by loads of Local Authority led partnerships – like the one in Manchester, that created 8,000 jobs alone.
In my time I met Jobs Fund employees doing all sorts of things. A trainee tree surgeon in Birmingham. A caseworker in Bristol supporting refugee women to access health services. Someone in Hartlepool who as far as I could tell was pretty much running the FJF programme there herself. The list went on – London, Newport, Kent, Glasgow – everywhere I went, I met people doing proper jobs, earning a wage, building self esteem, learning skills, making networks. Many of them had never worked before. None of them had worked for at least six months.
The Future Jobs Fund was not perfect. It was expensive - £6,500 per place, which I think we could have got down to £5,000 with a bit of creative thinking (in particular from the Skills Funding Agency, but also employers). I felt that it became increasingly poorly targeted – at one point, nearly half of all young people who'd been on JSA for six months were getting FJF jobs. There were no targets for getting people into subsequent employment. And the private sector was notable by its absence. Inclusion found the same things, in the only independent national evaluation of the Fund: loads of good practice, some bad, but some strong and enduring impacts. You can read a summary here.
But no programme is perfect. Far too often, particularly in welfare to work, we let the great be the enemy of the good. And finally, yesterday's impact assessment by DWP (pdf) has shown conclusively that for all its small imperfections the FJF had a big impact. I won't dwell on the analysis (for a great summary read this blog by Jonathan Portes), only to say that the impacts described are huge by the standards of employment programmes.
Nor am I going to attack the Government for closing the Fund. The decision was made in May 2010 but the Fund continued to create jobs until March 2011 – alongside the guarantee of a job or training place for all long-term unemployed young people. In fact the very large majority of FJF jobs were created under this Government – 70,000 of them.
At the time the decision was made, youth unemployment was falling, growth forecasts were strong, and the Work Programme was slated to begin in April 2011. So the mistake wasn't to close the scheme to new bids – it was not to re-open it when youth unemployment starting rising again, the economy didn't recover, and the Work Programme was delayed. But of course by then the argument had moved on – as had almost all of my team (including me).
Instead, what I'd like to focus on is where we go from here. Long-term youth unemployment is now higher than it has been in at least two decades and is still rising. There is £1 billion available through the Youth Contract, but mostly tied up in wage subsidies that are hard to claim and of low value.So here's an idea:
Why not devolve some of that subsidy money – not all of it – to our big cities, where most long-term unemployed young people live. Why not give them (through City Deals or Local Enterprise Partnerships) the flexibility to spend it on creating new, sustainable jobs targeting the long-term unemployed. Why not challenge them to combine that with skills money, European money, their own budgets, the Work Programme. Set targets for how many jobs they will create, by how much they'll reduce unemployment , and how many they'll support into unsubsidised jobs. And why not do it now.
The money is there already – it's just not being spent. So, now, is the evidence. So we shouldn't bring back the Future Jobs Fund. We can do even better than that. We must do better.