Real Change for New Deal waits on 2nd term

Deciding the shape of the "re-engineered" New Deal 25+ has been a long and sometimes laborious process. The new programme will launch in April 2001 and offer a newly structured range of help for those unemployed for over 18 months.

It is now just over a year since the basic outlines of the programme were first considered by Ministers, the New deal Task Force and shared with a number of partner organisations. During the course of Spring, Summer and Autumn of 2000, many observers became perplexed by the slow pace of decision taking within DfEE. Indeed, as the months wore on, the Employment Service became agitated by the prospect of starting tender negotiations with providers without a clear definition of the programme they would be expected to deliver.

What took up all the time? Looked at from the claimant's point of view, the new programme design hardly changed at all during the course of the year. From the Employment Service viewpoint, the delivery arrangements went through the mill more than once. Alongside the new programme, the ES is also taking over responsibility for adult training that was previously funded by Treaining and Enterprise Councils.

Despite all the design effort, superficially the new programme looks remarkably like the current New Deal for over 25s. And, as we show in this edition, the expenditure allocated is almost identical to the previous year's despite a promise by the Chancellor in his March 2000 budget that spending would nearly double.

Clearly the Government needed to make some changes to the New Deal for over 25s. Although the figures have started to pick-up significantly, it is achieving less than half the levels of sustained job entry recorded by the programme for 18 to 24 year olds. Whilst this is not surprising given the older and more long term nature of the unemployed population, only 48,300 people have found sustained work out of a total intake of 322,600 since its launch 21/2 years ago.

But the eventual decision to opt for a more cautionary approach has been driven by three factors:

DfEE is one of the most empirically minded of government Departments, so it is unsurprising that officials have persuaded Ministers to wait and evaluate the growing evidence base. This is very sensible. Two studies of the "prototype" Employment Zones found significantly higher job entry rates than for orthodox programmes. However, it is still too early to judge the results from "fully fledged" Employment Zones which launched earlier this year and are further testing the Personal Job Account model. Equally the Government has still not fully evaluated the 29 areas that ran pilot versions of the New Deal for the over 25s whilst the most recent innovations like Action Teams are still too early in their development for definitive conclusions to be drawn.

In these circumstances, the "re-engineered" New Deal must be seen as yet another type of pilot programme. A re-elected Labour Government will undoubtedly want to re-model all its offerings along lines indicated in October by David Blunkett's 5 principles (see Working Brief 119). We can expect Ministers to hit the road in the New Year testing some of the emerging ideas that will underpin New Deal in a 2nd Parliament and many of these proposals have discussed:

Whilst the "re-engineered" New Deal 25plus only gives us a glimpse of some of these aspects, we shall have to wait for Mr Blair to form a new Government in the next Parliament and then really see the New Deals helping many hundreds of thousands back into lasting, secure, steady work.