NAME: Doug Cresswell
JOB: Chief executive, Pure Innovations.
QUALIFICATIONS: MSc Management.
LAST JOB: Service manager, employment services.
FIRST JOB: Ratings and computation officer of welfare benefits.
As “modernisation” shifts councils from direct providers to commissioners, it can be seen as a guise for spending cuts and efficiency drives and not as a saviour.
But in the case of Stockport Council’s employment services, it is being seen as just that. For 17 years, the council had supported socially excluded people in the borough into work. But now it will be the job of Pure Innovations – a newly formed charitable company.
“We find work for people who are not picked up by mainstream agencies such as Jobcentre Plus and Connexions,” says former service manager of employment services and now chief executive of the new company Doug Cresswell. “We have two employment brands: Work Link, which works with people who have significant disabilities and now includes ethnic minorities, care leavers and refugees.
“The second brand is Embracing Diversity, which works with a small number of large employers – for example the BBC and Sainsbury’s – in a more strategic way, helping instil good human
resources management practices in their organisations.”
The company is also responsible for reshaping day services, with a move away from building-based traditional activities towards community integration. “For example, we run five self-financing café bars – some with the council’s heritage services such as the Hat Works museum,” says Cresswell. “Volunteers learn new skills in an everyday location with real customers and with real things they have to do. For us, projects need to give people day-to-day contact with ordinary folk and move them from being a service user to a service provider.”
Although cuts are not on the agenda, money was at the heart of the transfer. “Much of the employment service wafunded through the European Social Fund,” says Cresswell. “But this declined
with joint financing and many hundreds of thousands of pounds of our funding went to Jobcentre Plus and others. Staff and services were being lost.”
Cresswell tuned into the possibility of a forming the company when considering a bid for a community radio licence, which could only be awarded to not-for-profit organisations. “So with community radio requirements and our services withering on the vine we needed to look at different ways of funding,” he says. “We looked at being allowed to expand our work throughout Greater Manchester – to tap into regional funding.”
All of which, says Cresswell, made the decision fairly straightforward. “Even so, I still think that Stockport Council took a brave decision as this wasn’t a transferabout making savings; this was about development.”
Crucially, the council agreed a £2.2m per year contract for five years. “We’re providing services for some of the most vulnerable people in Stockport and you cannot make such a big change in people’s lives without offering service users, their parents and carers, and staff some stability. The council’s long-term contract reassured us,” says Cresswell.
Nonetheless, the 122 staff who transferred to Pure Innovations needed convincing. “We held workshops, seminars, communication events, meetings and road shows. We explained the positives and the negatives: a business, of course, can go bust.”
One message from staff was unequivocal: they wanted to remain in the local authority pension scheme. “That was their number one priority,” says Cresswell. “It’s not a cheap scheme but it’s a good one and is valued by people. It’s one of the things that help you to attract good staff and it speaks volumes about how you value your staff.”
For Cresswell it wasn’t just the staff who needed convincing. “Everybody has to believe you have a viable business – lawyers, banks, accountants and auditors. You stand or fall by your business plans. Your figures have to stack up.”
And for Pure Innovations the figures are stacking well in its favour. Ofcom certainly thinks so – it’s just awarded the company a five-year licence for its community station, Pure FM. The company certainly seems to be on the right wavelength.
● Ensure stability with a long-term contract.
● Charitable status opens up funding opportunities.
● Have your business plan scrutinised by everyone.
● Just sell the good stuff to staff – no point worrying them.
● With a big council contract in the bag, sit back – there’s no need to look for other funding.