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Programme background

Place-based employment programmes

Geographical disparities in labour market outcomes, and the entrenchment and complexity of spatial concentrations of worklessness, even at times when the national economy is performing well, have driven increasing interest in localising public service delivery and employment programmes. Proponents of place-based employment programmes argue that they will see better outcomes1, particularly for people facing multiple disadvantage, if they:

  • join up across relevant policy domains;

  • align funding and activities to reduce duplication and address gaps in provision;

  • are designed and delivered to address locally-specific needs and priorities, based on local knowledge; and

  • are co-designed with local stakeholders, service providers and employers, to gain greater local buy-in and enhanced local credibility.

There are challenges facing place-based employment programmes, including issues relating to economics of scale, the availability of local knowledge and capacity, variability in local service provision, and the short-term nature of many policies.

Local partnership working lies at the heart of place-based employment programmes, including previous examples from the UK, such as Employment Zones (Hasluck et al., 2003), Total Place projects (HM Treasury Communities and Local Government, 2010), and the City Strategy initiative (Green & Adam, 2011). All these examples were underpinned by the rationale that, by better understanding local circumstances and barriers to work, it is possible to target resources where, and on what, they are most needed, and to gain traction sooner through local links.

Of relevance to Connecting Communities is the place-based geographical saturation policy model (What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, 2018). This involves providing intensive support, both employment-related and otherwise, to residents in a specific neighbourhood. Saturation aims to achieve greater impact than conventional employment interventions by creating a ‘critical mass’ of successful residents to inspire and otherwise influence others in the community through positive spillovers between residents, hence creating cultural change (What Works for Local Economic Growth, 2018).

A particularly influential employment intervention of this type is Jobs Plus: a place-based employment intervention in the US, which adopted a neighbourhood-based model focused on residents in public housing where there were high levels of worklessness. Jobs Plus provided intensive, co-ordinated, and neighbourhood-based support (across different policy domains) to help residents prepare for, and find, work (Wilson and McCallum, 2018). Evaluation evidence found that where fully implemented, Jobs Plus increased average earnings among residents by 16% relative to a control group and that these gains persisted over a seven-year follow-up period (Bloom et al., 2005). In the West Midlands, a similar initiative Working Together, aimed to reduce welfare dependency and increase employment amongst tenants in four areas of high unemployment and deprivation in the Black Country. It encompassed place-based employment services, community support for work and financial incentives (Brown, 2019).

An earlier place-based initiative operating at a somewhat larger geographical scale was the Employment Zones programme in Great Britain which targeted areas with high concentrations of long-term unemployment and combined financial incentives (for both employees and local employers) with career assistance. Evaluation evidence indicated that eligible unemployed individuals living in Employment Zone areas transitioned out of unemployment at a significantly faster rate than unemployed individuals living in similar comparator areas (Hasluck et al., 2003).

History and overview of the Connecting Communities approach

Announced in August 2017, Connecting Communities was part of a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) initiative of innovative employment schemes for combined authorities to work in partnership with government to support disadvantaged jobseekers into work. The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was interested in the role of community, social, and psychological factors underpinning persistent localised concentrations of worklessness. This interest informed the focus of the programme.

Connecting Communities adapted the Jobs Plus model to the specific social and economic context of the West Midlands, and incorporated learning from the Working Together project. It adopted a place-based saturation approach with no restrictions on eligibility for residents within defined neighbourhoods.

The economic rationale for Connecting Communities was based on equity, information, and coordination failures, and the need to build the trust needed for a more effective labour market. The aims were to:

  • build social networks that deliver positive changes in attitudes and aspirations towards work in areas with historic, high levels of worklessness;
  • increase the employment rate in local areas; and
  • work with businesses to build the recruitment of individuals from the area into a wider talent management approach offering visible progression pathways.

The programme began in 2018 in nine geographically defined neighbourhoods (also known as ‘communities’ and/ or ‘lots’) characterised by high levels of worklessness and proportions of residents with no or low qualifications. At the outset, the WMCA decided to:

  • include neighbourhoods across a mix of both constituent and non-constituent authorities;

  • join up across relevant policy domains;

  • include a mix of areas in socio-demographic terms (ie age and household structure, ethnic profile of the population) and functional terms (ie inner city areas, outer estates);

  • include lots of different sizes; and

  • exclude neighbourhoods where other non-mainstream programmes were active.

Providers bid in a competitive process to deliver services in each of the lots. In summer 2019, three of the initially successful providers withdrew and were replaced by other providers. Table 1-1 shows the key characteristics of the nine lots and the delivery partners at the end of the delivery period. Lot sizes varied from £173,000 to £1,053,000. Providers included national welfare-to-work providers, a national employment and skills provider, a national training provider, an employment support organisation, and a local employment provider.

The programme used a payment by results funding model, with different payments attached to milestones for four participant groups: Hardest to Help (out of work for two years or more), Harder to Reach (out of work for 1-2 years), Rapid Progression (out of work for less than a year) and Employed. The payment amounts were differentiated to recognise the more complex support needs of participants that had been out of work for more than two years, ensuring providers had the resources to provide support. For example, a job outcome for a participant in the Hardest to Help group was paid at £889, and for a participant in the Rapid Progression cohort was £400.


Table 1-1. Overview of key features of Connecting Communities Lots


Town community with further education (FE) provider: Small-medium lot size, town-community outside metropolitan travel to work area (TTWA), utilise learning infrastructure, below profile on job outcomes.

Lead organisation type
Lot value (£)
Constituent members of the WMCA

Birchills Leamore

FE College (new)



Batchley and Brockhill FE College (new) 173,000 No
Cannock North FE College 211,200



Description of group

East Birmingham and Solihull urban partnership:
Large-medium lot sizes in urban TTWA, established employment support capabilities and wider infrastructure, joint working across the group. Proximity to large scale investment projects. On profile with job outcomes.

Lead organisation type
Lot value (£)
Constituent members of the WMCA

Washwood Heath

National welfare to work provider



Shard End

National employment and skills provider

824.700 Yes
Chelmsley Wood Local Employment provider (new) 379,000




Description of group

Medium sized lot in urban TTWA, established employment support capabilities. Not part of wider partnership.

Lead organisation type
Lot value (£)
Constituent members of the WMCA

Binley and Willenhall

National welfare-to-work provider





Description of group

Town location, small lots, developing capability and capacity in employment support

Lead organisation type
Lot value (£)
Constituent members of the WMCA
Camp Hill

National training provider




Employment support organisation (CIC)




Participation in Connecting Communities was voluntary. The exact nature of the activities and intervention delivered to participants was designed to be flexible and responsive, both over the lifetime of the programme, and to accommodate the needs of individual participants and the needs of the locality where it operated. Broadly, six types of activity were planned at the outset, underpinned by an emphasis on personalised, relational, and intensive support between a Connecting Communities participant and their advisor, with supplementary support (eg regarding financial inclusion) provided by local partners:

  • Information, advice and guidance and employability support, including the advisor and participant developing an action plan to try to address the issues identified.
  • Skills development, including changing participants’ mind-sets and behaviour (towards work). The programme focused on the development of employability skills. Participants could be referred to other providers for the development of other skills and qualifications.
  • Partnership-based approach, involving working closely with organisations to signpost and refer to holistic support.

  • Building networks and social capital, to increase the size and diversity of the networks of participants, promote engagement in the community, social interaction and cohesion and support, eg through encouraging participation in social and community- based activities which may help foster confidence in meeting new people and gaining new skills, and linking participants to employers in the community.

  • Employer activity, including provision of taster days, work experience, skills training, and employment opportunities.

  • Job brokerage, to support participants into work, either through focusing on matching individuals to specific jobs, or to develop relationships with large employers to guarantee interviews for participants referred via Connecting Communities.

Evaluation objectives

The final evaluation of the Connecting Communities programme seeks to:

  • measure programme engagement and employment outcomes across different variables, such as participant characteristics and lot;

  • identify ‘pain points’ and good practices in programme implementation and governance (including but not limited to partnership working, promotion and marketing, employer engagement and job brokerage, what pre-employment support helps individuals, and how to promote in-work progression and identify type of in-work progression);

  • document lessons learned;

  • assess programme outcomes against the indicators outlined in the Theory of Change, namely: behaviour change towards work, self-esteem and locus of control, awareness of labour market opportunities, and employment;

  • determine contexts and mechanisms that hinder or facilitate the attainment of desired programme outcomes; and

  • provide recommendations to reinforce the effectiveness of future place-based employment support and in-work progression programmes.

An evaluation of the cost effectiveness of the programme and an impact evaluation are being undertaken.

Overview of methodology

A theory of change (ToC) (illustrated in Figure 6.1) maps out the links cross the programme’s activities, target outputs, and planned outcomes and impact. To evaluate the programme, the evaluation uses the following data sources:

Audited claims data held by WMCA. This is used to present the overall performance of the programme, and provide data about the number of participants, and the outcomes achieved.

  • Providers were asked to collect management information (MI) about participants, including their characteristics, barriers to work, and actions undertaken. This data covers the period since the programme began in June 2018, through to January 2022, and is provided for a sample of participants. WMCA provided data for validated claims submitted through to November 2021, and until October 2021 for Lot 2: Binley & Willenhall, Coventry. This was matched to the MI data to facilitate the completion and accuracy of the employment outcomes data. The data available for some variables of the MI is limited, and the number of participants with data varies between data fields. For this reason, findings are reported with the number of participants included in brackets so that readers can take this into account when interpreting findings, for example (N = 100). The analysis draws on three regression models for: job outcomes, 13 weeks sustainment and in-work progression. Results from logistic regressions have been presented using odds ratios to describe the likelihood of an outcome occurring. For example, an odds ratio of 2 means that participants in one group are twice as likely than those in another group to have a job outcome.
  • Qualitative data comes from interviews conducted with stakeholders across programme implementation. These interviews were semi-structured and focused on stakeholders’ experiences of programme engagement, partnership working, and implementation. Three immersive visits, conducted in Year 1, supplement the data provided by these semi-structured interviews. The interview sample consisted of lead provider representatives, delivery staff and partners, community residents, and employers. In total, 51 participants were interviewed in Year 1, 63 in Year 2, and 40 in Year 3.

Full methodological detail is contained in the Annex.