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28th January 2021

‘It felt like a missed opportunity’: thousands of jobs jammed in slow kickstart scheme

Georgia Heneage

Four months after the Kickstart initiative was launched in a billion-pound effort to secure hundreds of thousands of jobs for the jobless youth, figures show less than 2,000 jobs have been created.

The latest statistics from the Department of Work Pensions (DWP) revealed that, as of 15 January, 1,868 young people began placements secured under Kickstart. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has attributed this to the second lockdown restrictions, and says he expects the numbers to rise once lockdown eases.

But small business owners tell a different story. Since the initiative began, many potential placements have been jammed in a slow process which stopped small businesses from applying directly for funding; instead, they’ve had to bunch together and apply via a mediator.

Earlier this week, the DWP made it possible for small businesses to apply directly for the scheme, but there are still thousands of jobless young people, and the painstaking work of gateway organisations (including colleges and private training providers) to get small businesses access has now been scrapped. It’s a tale of government seesawing and absence of prior preparation we know all too well.

Ben Taylor, founder of a home working portal called HomeWorkingClub, was keen to give talented young people a chance to learn the ropes of internet marketing when he heard about Kickstart, but was put off from applying altogether.

“When I actually started to look into it, I saw that you needed 30 people, had to go via job centre plus, and didn’t know who you were going to get. Businesses way bigger than mine have been put off by it,” he said.

Taylor was propositioned to merge with some other businesses but found the process too time-consuming and complicated. “You only have so many hours a day, it just didn’t seem worth it,” he said. “I thought it was such a shame, though. There’s easily enough work for someone to learn a huge amount about SEO and internet marketing.”

Taylor says he knows a brilliant 21-year old computer science graduate, for instance, whose degree would have “perfectly” aligned with a placement at Home Working Club. “He’s now working at the local co-op- which is great- but it just feels like a missed opportunity.”

“A lot of these policies make great headlines, but the devil’s always in the detail,” says Taylor.

Sanjay Aggarwal, managing director of Spice Kitchen, a food manufacturer, also found the scheme attractive on the surface but practically challenging.

“The scheme is, in principle, a really clever move by the government,” says Aggarwal, who, having been on the board for Young Enterprise & Young Money in his 20s, started a recruitment company and employed a number of 16-18 year olds at Spice Kitchen, is “passionate” about helping the youth up the job ladder.

But the reality was much less appealing. “There was no actual information on how the scheme would be delivered,” says Aggarwal. “They were extremely slow getting information out and gateway providers were clueless- it’s taken months just for them to be approved by the DWP.”

“As usual the government seems to have a good plan but no idea how it will be delivered- they find that out afterwards. It’s a bit of a mess”.

For some companies, it has taken months just to be connected to a gateway provider- the first step in what is clearly a lengthy process.

Bay Burdett, founder and CEO of food provider Bay’s Kitchen, experienced a “huge delay” in the process. “We sent our application in October and were told we should hear back in four weeks,” says Burdett. “We heard nothing, and then in December we got a generic email from Adecco, our chosen gateway provider. We’re only just managing to get the ad live this week.”

Jon Basker, CEO of KickstartGo, says he founded the gateway platform in October for the sole purpose of making the process easier for small businesses such as Bay’s Kitchen or Home Working Club.

“It was started off the back of trying to apply ourselves to the scheme, as a digital agency. We realised it was a cumbersome process and that other gateways didn’t have a particularly good offer,” says Basker.

“We realised lots of small and medium-sized business would look at the scheme and figure it was too much of a hassle, so we wanted to make the process super easy and simple,” he said. Today, says Basker, KickstartGo put through 300 roles behalf of 100 employers across the UK.

Despite the government’s decision to lift the 30-employee rule, Basker says Gateways are still needed to ensure a smooth process. “It will mean more people can access the scheme, of course, but whether that means they can access it more easily is another matter,” he says.

“Small businesses should be focused on running their business, rather than getting bogged down in the bureaucracy of the DWP, which is the point of gateways.”

Though its uptake has been slow, Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, says government initiatives like these are still essential in narrowing the inequality gap in employment.

Major says that an “effective” Kickstart would be a necessity: “our research into the links between unemployment and education show that initiatives like Kickstart are urgently needed; jobs for under 25s are being decimated by the minute, and you need to guarantee jobs to avert long term unemployment.”

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