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Bristol City Council: employment, skills and learning service

Bristol City Council’s employment, skills and learning service works proactively to ensure it adds value to the skills and employment system, including through its ‘Bristol One City’ partnership. This case study explores the strengths, challenges and impact of the current system, and what is required to increase positive outcomes for local residents.

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About Bristol City Council

Bristol City Council is a unitary authority in south west England serving a population of just over 440,000. Its executive function is controlled by a directly elected mayor. Bristol is in the West of England Combined Authority.

Vision for the local area

Bristol City Council’s employment, skills and learning service (ESL) brings together apprenticeships, adult community learning, post-16 and employment support. The vision is for a coordinated and targeted set of services so that no-one is left behind in the city. The council takes a coordination role, bringing together funding streams and engaging partners and stakeholders.

Jane Taylor, Head of Service, said: “We have a ‘Bristol One City’ partnership, backed by our mayor and supported through a one city office and a series of thematic boards which bring together the key players across business, the public and voluntary sectors. Within the economy and skills board, for example, we look at the data, issues, needs and gaps and form multi-agency co-designed approaches to tackling emerging local issues.”

The ESL team strives to provide an employment support service that is responsive to individuals, local communities and employers. It combines universal, targeted and specialist approaches. Increasingly, the council’s services are moving into the specialist zone to support those furthest from work and facing the most complex barriers and needs:

"For example, we have been co-designing customised courses and referral systems for parents in contact with our children and families services," explained Jane.

The link between employment and skills is fundamental, and the council always looks for a way of ‘stitching in’ skills opportunity – for example through in-work progression. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) work coach model cannot always address skills gaps in the same way:

“People out of work are often unable to access the jobs they want without opportunities to retrain. The council can engage people through different contact routes and can provide an integrated package of employment and skills support,” added Jane.

Work the council is currently undertaking

Among the current programmes is ‘One Front Door’ , delivering a responsive job matching service to help employers, individuals and support agencies match vacancies with jobseekers from Bristol’s most deprived communities. This flagship programme also signposts users to other resources and programmes. Funded through £347,000 DWP flexible support funding and city council match-funding for an initial 18 months, One Front Door is helping at least 600 Bristol residents to access work.

Another project is helping homeless people to progress towards work through building their skills, resilience, confidence and independence. ‘Move In, Move On, Move Up’  is funded with £100,000 from DWP and the city council for 15 months, with the council bringing a range of specialist partners together to create a new delivery model – including housing, health, drug and alcohol support and debt advice. Between December 2020 and October 2021, the team supported 100 rough sleepers, including 28 who started employment and 35 who completed an English language course. Working with the council’s homelessness support team, ESL is looking at how this can be incorporated into its permanent delivery.

Previous programmes have included ‘Get Well – Get On’, which tested models of support for people at risk of losing their job due to a mental health condition, and supported 140 people to resume or continue their employment and manage their condition.

Opportunities, barriers and potential solutions

While Bristol City Council has a good trusting relationship with DWP locally, it is looking for ways to join up services more effectively, particularly developing a cyclical strategic plan, sharing information and in-depth local level data and joining up the discussion around funding. Initial work has started to develop a joint partnership agreement – a strategic document listing their shared interests and priorities.

One barrier, for example, is when commissioners and strategic providers work separately (including DWP, council teams, FE providers) with no clear overview across the system.

“We have agreed to develop something that is more planned, more collaborative. However, with the way that funding and policies flow downwards, this way of working is not always in the control of the local managers and team,” explained Jane.  

Employment support is much stronger when managed bottom-up, Jane said, because of the differences in each place. For example, with homelessness support, which Bristol is doing well.

“As a council we were able to plug into a 36-strong stakeholder steering group that supports this work. The DWP would find that really difficult.” 

Bristol is changing its planning rules so that any major development, at construction and end-use phase, must pay a levy to fund a coordinator to oversee an employment and skills plan.

“Again, that could only come from the council taking action. We have spotted so many other gaps or needs where we can’t proceed because the mainstream funding is so tied up with prescribed programmes, or we can’t control the decision making", said Jane.

The council got on board quickly with the DWP to establish 'Kickstart' in Bristol. At first, work coaches were telling advising young people to write to or email employers about vacancies, which was favouring graduates.

“We intervened in order to help young people facing barriers to employment. We worked with the DWP to create a Kickstart academy to provide pre-recruitment training in partnership with our local FE college. We were then able to do more proactive job matching with the young people and help them with their applications. That unlocked the whole thing,” added Jane.

The council-managed Kickstart scheme alone created and filled 200 6-month jobs across partner employers and Council teams, with many young people progressing to sustainable roles. 

The local perspective

Bristol City Council’s ‘One Front Door’ team works in partnership with local organisations on an annual programme of jobs fairs. These are publicised through locally distributed flyers and across job centres, libraries and public venues, through the council’s website and social media, in the press and through partner agencies. The fairs are free-of-charge for employers to attend.

The 2021 Christmas jobs fair was hosted at the Galleries shopping centre. It was attended by 43 employers with hard-to-fill vacancies and six support organisations. A survey sent out after the event revealed that:

  • local design and print company ‘Out of Hand’ offered an interview to 14 people and offered a job to 10 people
  • recruitment consultants 24-7 and online retailer Dedoles both offered a job to someone as a result of the jobs fair
  • all the employers and support organisations said the event had been very well organised
  • an average of 25 people spoke to each organisation about their services/provision on the day.


Jane Taylor, Head of Employment, Skills and Learning - [email protected]

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