Bootstrap Enterprises is an east Lancashire-based not for profit business, a community enterprise that for more than 30 years has been involved in welfare-to-work activities, business start-up support, vocational training, and other services to social enterprises in the area. “Probably around 80% of our business is around delivering welfare-to-work activities,” Dave Wylie, Programme Manager with Bootstrap, tells 3SC Impact. The staff of around 100 delivers a variety of Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Big Lottery, and European Social Fund supported programmes. For 3SC, Bootstrap delivers its Specialist Employment Service across Lancashire. Bootstrap currently has some 12 delivery contracts with around 2,500 clients across east Lancashire.
“I’ve been with the company about 10 years now,” says Wylie, “and it’s changed a lot. I came from a local authority background and in 2008 we transferred the services we delivered to support disabled people out of the local authority and into Bootstrap.
How have things changed? “I think the kind of business-driven focus on payment by results model that DWP lives and dies by now is a huge change – we could be working with some clients for up to two years before we start to see any revenue return from the contract. That’s been the greatest change in the last seven or eight years, the understanding that only a good performance is going to bring you the income that you need.” But does payment by results work in such a sensitive area, where lots of damaged individuals come though Bootstrap’s doors, each with their own complexity of problems? “From a taxpayer’s perspective I think payment by results is a good model of ensuring value for money, in terms of government letting other organisations deliver its services,” says Wylie. “The challenge becomes when you consider an organisation like ourselves – smallish, not for profit, but we are the local specialist – and resource-wise it can be quite a challenge to deliver. It can get quite hairy sometimes but from the taxpayer’s perspective the payment by results model is absolutely the right way to play it. It doesn’t recognise some of the challenges that particular customers can bring, but we are resigned to it now.”
Wylie is clearly a committed enthusiast for his work. “It’s very difficult,” he says, “to explain to people exactly what it is you do. On the local level, everybody knows Bootstrap, everybody knows that company next to the railway station with the two big red doors is Bootstrap – but unless you have been through those doors very few people actually know what it is that we do. We are rooted in the east Lancashire area.”
And he’s a big fan of 3SC. “They are a very good and proactive organisation to work with. They do invest in us, are very supportive of us, and despite the scale of our very small piece in the overall contract we deliver for them, we are so very well looked after. They offer us training and make sure that happens reasonably locally. We benefit from a good contractor/sub- contractor relationship with them. When we do work as a sub- contractor for one of these big organisations, the sense is always very much ‘this is how we do it and this is what you will achieve’ and it’s numbers, numbers, numbers and outcomes, outcomes, outcomes. But 3SC are very respectful of our skills and experience, and are very tolerant of the challenging situations some of our clients face and how long that might take.”
The challenges for someone such as Dave Wylie are various, but one thing causes difficulties these days – the growth of short-term working and temping agencies’ recruitment: they make meeting the DWP’s requirements for sustainable jobs tricky. Young people facing difficulties with apprenticeships is another issue – the sheer complexity of the benefits system and payments make life difficult for young people. But when we ask him what would make his life easier, or better, or more fulfilling, he only pauses briefly before saying: “My life would be much more fulfilling, in terms of the people me and my colleagues work with, if we could ensure opportunities and access to jobs for all people with disabilities. In the DWP’s Access to Work programme it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg world; you’ve almost got to have the job in place before you will be considered for Access to Work support. In an ideal world a more accessible and responsive Access to Work programme would better serve our customers and employers too.”