Somerset West and Taunton

Multi-agency task force deployed to curtail redundancies

Somerset West & Taunton Council has mobilised a reactive task force to help businesses and employees impacted by successive lockdown restrictions.

The support is provided by multiple agencies with the aim of reducing or avoiding redundancies through strategic advice offered to businesses and assistance towards finding alternative employment for employees already facing redundancy.

The need for a framework to deliver redundancy support was recognised by the Council’s Economic Development team and developed in partnership with Somerset County Council, district authorities across Somerset, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (HotSW LEP) and the Somerset Growth Board.

This framework was implemented earlier this year following the announcement that Debenhams would be closing its stores as part of a structured winding down of the business. With its landmark department store and support centre both based in Taunton, hundreds of staff, many of which had been working for Debenhams most of their lives, needed to find alternative employment or a career pathway.

In response, the Economic Development team pulled together its first Redundancy Support Task Force offering help from ten separate organisations. Throughout February and March, 25 group and one-to-one support sessions were held and attended by 99 employees.

The team’s Business Relationship Lead Officers provided the overall steer for the group and worked closely with the employees to establish the best route for each member of staff by referring them to the most appropriate support.

The support included financial, legal and welfare guidance from Citizens Advice Somerset; careers advice from National Careers Service; bespoke training and guidance from Serco’s Skills Support for Redundancy (SSR) service; apprenticeship and upskilling support from Skill Up Somerset; industry-based training and connection to virtual careers fairs from HotSW LEP; job search support and access to fully-funded vocational and non-vocational training from Jobcentre Plus’ Rapid Response Service (RRS); practical help with CV’s, job applications and interview techniques from Barclays Taunton and SWT’s very own Community Employment Hubs service; free access to digital devices from Somerset Libraries; and recruitment workshops promoting careers in the health and social care sector held by held by Somerset NHS Foundation Trust.

Ex-Debenhams staff member Sarah said: “My personal feedback would be nothing but positive! As someone who has never been through this process before, it was a great surprise and relief to discover quite how much external help and guidance is available for us, and that is definitely echoed in any feedback I have received from my colleagues.

“The amount of fully funded courses which we can continue to access past our redundancy, as well as the more immediate help with CV’s, application processes, and interview techniques is reassuring.

“Everyone on the SWT task force has been incredibly helpful and are clearly extremely knowledgeable in their fields. It was obvious that they are very used to working closely together and reassuring to know that if you didn’t perhaps pick the best route, all providers would not hesitate to point you in the right direction.”

Ex-Debenhams staff member Claire said: “I have been so impressed with the way the task force has been brought together and co-ordinated. I have really enjoyed being part of it and it’s given me great satisfaction that we have been able to do something positive for my team during lockdown to prepare them for redundancy.

“I know many of my team have used the information given by organisations in the task force to get onto training courses, get their CV’s written and understand the implications financially so they are prepared.

“The work that the hub team and the task force organisations have done with us has really helped, giving us more confidence to approach redundancy and future job searching in a positive informed way.”

Depending on the circumstances of businesses facing potential redundancies, the number and mix of member organisations on the task force are altered to suit the support required.

Since helping the ex-Debenhams staff, the Economic Development team has also engaged the services of further member organisations including: AcasBetter Business FinanceBridgwater and Taunton CollegeCentre for Sustainable EnergyCornerstone MentoringEnterprise South WestHinkley Point C Jobs ServiceMindPositive PeopleSomerset Skills & LearningStart Up DonutStart Up LoansStep Up Somerset; Taunton East Development Trust Ltd; Work-WiseThe Prince’s Trust; and ​Wis£rmoney.

Government organisations involved also include DWPHMRCBusiness Support HelplineDepartment for International Trade and Innovate UK.

Specific support for businesses aimed at minimising redundancies and encouraging growth begins with performance analysis, looking at restructuring options, reviewing working practices and identifying skills gaps. This is followed with referrals for financial and legal services, including access to grants and business loans.

Measures like the furlough scheme have helped to protect jobs but as the UK emerges from lockdown, the Economic Development team is mindful that the number of people out of work is expected to grow.

Business that are considering making redundancies may not think to contact their Local Authority in the first instance, so it is vital they are aware that SWT and its partners can provide a tailored package of support free of charge. Establishing contact early will ensure the best possible outcome for businesses and their staff.

To get in contact with the Economic Development team, or to request a resource pack for employers or employees, email employmentsupport@somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk. A YouTube video has also been produced for employees outlining the different types of support available.