News and Comment

Changing Times with Baroness Steadman-Scott, CEO Tomorrow’s People

Friday 20 September 2013


Debbie Scott is Chief Executive of employment and training charity Tomorrow’s People which aims to transform people’s lives through work.

If you compare today’s society and the society into which you were born: what’s most strikingly different, and what’s most surprisingly similar?

When I was leaving school the labour market was healthy and there were plenty of jobs around for everybody. That meant there were a lot more of what I would call easy transitional jobs, suited to people’s circumstances and skills. But now these jobs are fewer and far between, meaning lots of young people are leaving school without making a good transition to the world of work.

I think it’s also true that the education system better equipped young people with basic skills in the past than it appears to do today. Young people do not appear to be taken on the same journey now as they were when I was at school. I used to see a careers officer regularly and she told me what was in the labour market, and arranged for me to go on visits to different companies to see what I might like to do. I don’t think that exists to the degree now than it did then.

People were also prepared to help each other more then. Now I think people are very averse to getting involved in other people’s lives for all sorts of reasons. The community spirit seems to have dimmed, unless there’s a crisis of some sort which does still draw people together.

If you had a 10 minute briefing with the Prime Minister on the issue of unemployment and employment policy what key issues would you be keen to stress?

I would want to really get to grips with helping young people make a good transition from the world of education to the world of work, and to do that I would want a journey path for every young person.

There are some young people who really understand what they want to do, they are well motivated, they have got great support networks, and so they are less likely to need support than those who are more vulnerable.

But I would like to see every young person given access to a coach or mentor at the right time in the education system. These coaches would continue to work with young people until they were completely integrated into the workplace, or if there was not a job for them, young people would be involved in the working world in some meaningful capacity to keep them in good shape  so they could secure a job when one became available.

Secondly I would like to see a system whereby if people are not in work and are in receipt of benefit, – which I am completely supportive of – they are given something to do that helps them move forward with their life. This should be something respectful to the individual and something that helps them specifically. I think it would be better to convert the benefit payment to a community wage where recipients could work with others, five days a week, as part of a team in the community, so they can make a contribution, learn new things and keep busy.

We certainly see physical poverty in this country,  but we also see a poverty of aspiration, inspiration and determination, and I would like to see much more effort made to counter that.

Public services rely on voluntary support more than ever: is this to be welcomed?

Public services, or services for the public, are best delivered by the people who do the best job. Now for me, that might mean the private sector, it might mean the public sector, or it might mean the voluntary sector. But the only criteria that should matter, is who is best to do the job. If that is the voluntary sector, supported by people in our communities who have a desire to play a greater role in society and in the area in which they live, I think it’s great.

How do you feel that the role of charities in delivering public services is changing?

The reason my colleagues and I get up in the morning is because we are absolutely committed to helping people get jobs and then helping them to keep them. I wouldn’t wish to be arrogant, but Tomorrow’s People has been at this for nearly 30 years now. That doesn’t give us a divine right to exist, but I think we have got a pretty good grasp on the issues that people face.

We obviously want to help as many people as possible and scale up, so that as a organisation, we can be competitive, but I think charities need to be very, very careful that in pursuing scale and growth, they don’t lose the magic of what they do.

The whole environment around public service delivery by charities has changed. You get payment by results now; as a charity, if you are confident in your service delivery, if you can measure and prove the impact in what you do, you should not shy away from payment by results at all. The days when charities were given money en masse to go away and do something ‘good’ and not have to account for it, have gone. People will argue whether that is a good thing or a bad thing, but we have to face the fact that they have gone.

Because of the economic climate there is also a pressure to drive prices down, and if you drive the price down beyond a certain point then something has to give. Charities have to be prepared to say no and not accept contracts at prices which are below what it costs them to deliver and do the right job for the people they are in business to serve.

Previous Changing Times contributors

Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA.

Professor Kate Pickett, epidemiologist and author

Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive of the LGA

Professor Chris Drinkwater, President of the NHS Alliance

Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive of the social enterprise Turning Point

Professor Richard Wilkinson, researcher into social inequalities and author

Professor Ted Cantle CBE, expert on interculturalism and community cohesion

Jonty Olliff-Cooper, expert on independent sector involvement in public services

Dame Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of Action for Children

Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of NCVO

Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner for England