Reaching priority communities and service integration - Bristol City Council

COVID-19 has created the conditions to enable better working across all council services and being able to use different offers and services to reach people most adversely affected and help them back into a job and for those further left behind, into an employment pathway.


Bristol City Council (BCC) is a unitary authority in the South West of England. BCC has a directly elected mayor.  It is one of ten core cities and has a thriving economy with higher than the UK average GVA rates. 

It has a high rate of business start-ups and a developing professional services and IT sector. The city also has a strong cultural and creative sector. However, this prosperity masks disadvantage.  Whilst it has a strong higher education offer, it has a low skills base, and there is growing income disparity and persistent deprivation in some of its communities.

Prior to COVID-19 the city had an employment rate of 76.3 per cent and a UC claimant rate of 2.7 per cent. UC claims had more than doubled, with the greatest rise affecting both the 18-24 and 25-49 age groups. The current furlough rate is 14 per cent, a reduction of 9 per cent from the figures experienced in May 2020.

The team

The council has a single Employment, Skills and Learning (ESL) team which brings together adult learning, apprenticeships, community learning, employment support and young careers and pathways. The ESL team is part of the Education and Skills Division in the People Directorate.

Previously, employment and skills functions were siloed departments and bringing the teams together meant ensuring that the council’s employment and skills offer is integrated and working across the council for greater impact.

The ESL team has a leading co-ordination and system leadership role in Bristol. A strong example of successful collaboration is the Ways2Work Network, that brings together employment and training organisations to fill skills shortages in Bristol and support people into employment. This employment support infrastructure in the city is made up of 230 individuals representing 80 employment support organisations that work to share best practice and disseminate information. Their aim has been to create a truly integrated and co-designed employment and skills support service.

To address the spike in unemployment due to COVID-19, the ESL team has been supported by the DWP to establish the One Front Door - a programme of support for job seekers and those in-work who require support.  The service offer is single point of access for individuals, employers and education/support/training providers alike. Additionally, the WE Work for Everyone programme brings together a number of specialist employment interventions for people with a learning difficulty of all ages under a single menu of opportunity.

The response

BCC’s political leadership have been important to integrating the employment and skills offer in the city, especially in light of the increased importance of aligning funding and delivery in the face of economic uncertainty. The ESL team has been a major contributor to the council’s economic recovery plan, and also the West of England Combined Authority Economic Recovery Plan.

COVID-19 has created the conditions to enable better working across all council services and being able to use different offers and services to reach people most adversely affected and help them back into a job and for those further left behind, into an employment pathway.

The shift to remote delivery has highlighted the issue of digital poverty, with no free Wi-Fi hotspots in the city and lack of equipment. As part of a wider Digital Inclusion ‘One City Partnership‘, the council’s ESL team is managing a major project to target distribution of 4,000 recycled laptops to priority groups, including young people who are NEET or at risk of NEET, adults of working age unable to access learning or employment, and older people who have found themselves increasingly isolated as a result of the pandemic. Laptop recipients are being supported to access free six-month unlimited data and introductory digital skills courses to make best use of their device.

The Government’s Everyone In scheme was set up to ensure that those experiencing homelessness had somewhere safe to stay. The ESL team worked closely with the rough sleeping and housing team to integrate a learning offer. At its height, the Everyone In scheme supported 420 people who were placed in hotels throughout Bristol.  Advice teams were on hand to provide support with right to remain permits, access to benefits, and other issues and this led to people accessing community resettlement support and community learning programmes to put them on a pathway to employment. The ESL team has subsequently secured DWP Flexible Support Funding to maintain and extend this service.

The team were also able to build on their strong relationships with DWP and providers. A city leaders board has been established jointly by senior DWP leaders and city council skills leaders, involving other lead partners representing key services such as probation, public health and care leavers. Operational meetings are also taking place fortnightly with DWP and city council employment support team managers to ensure alignment of priorities and local solutions. The council had worked with DWP on the commissioning of the Work and Health programme and have been able to align JETS and Kickstart within the One Front Door approach. This has led to recruitment of an additional 21 staff to support residents most impacted by COVID-19 and implement longer term plans related to One Front Door and Kickstart.

Key learning points

  • BCC’s Employment Skills and Learning Team are a good example of how integration of services can contribute to economic recovery. The key learning from BCC has been their ability to re-tool their existing programmes to respond to the pandemic and promote increased levels of integration across their services.
  • Internal integration of services within BCC is delivering on a key tenet of ‘localism’ – getting out into the community and talking to residents has improved their reach and understanding of needs. ESL is an active participant in a ‘Growing the Power of communities’ pilot managed by the council’s community development team and utilising an Asset Based Community Development approach.
  • The ESL team is developing new ways to link across and contribute to growth and regeneration directorate priorities. A new ‘Build Bristol’ partnership is being scoped out to develop a talent and skills pipeline across all major developments and the council’s planning team – helping to embed social value targets and commitments into contracts such as experience of work for young people, work placements, apprenticeships and local labour.

In hindsight

The team felt that it would have been beneficial to have spent more time early on mapping the customer journey to fully integrate the ESL recovery package of support, particularly around need and aspiration. This process is often hampered by the requirements of different external funding and the pressure on teams to focus on delivery.  There are challenges with keeping an integrated package of support together when national programmes are lowered into local areas.  The commissioning of Restart is an example and will need to fit within the Ways to Work network to ensure this integration is sustained.

The future

The council’s ESL Team has been very successful in securing major external funding and inward investment to grow their services. Their next steps are to assure and control the quality of these services through the development of quality frameworks. Data dashboards are being introduced for all service areas to support regular performance reviews.

The team is working to secure a multiagency and systematic approach to employment and skills across the city. Governance arrangements are being strengthened to improve stakeholder ownership and enhance service accountability, including the involvement and voice of service users.

ESL are continuing to take a holistic focus on tackling poverty and inequality by developing learning and skills pathways designed to improve educational attainment and career opportunities for young people and adults up to retirement age.


Jane Taylor

Head of Service (Employment, Skills and Learning)