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Filling delivery gaps through better governance

The Thematic Review seminar held in Brussels on 26th April 2006 was the fourth in a series of biannual seminars in the framework of the ŒMutual Learning Programme of the EES ‚. The theme of this Thematic Review seminar, „Filling delivery gaps through better governance‰, is crucial to the effective implementation of the Lisbon Strategy to boost growth and jobs. In a combination of expert papers and country examples, the seminar explored different theoretical and practical approaches to delivering reform and different forms of reform partnerships.

The seminar was hosted by the European Commission (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities-DG EMPL) and attended by government delegates, national and European stakeholders and social partners from EU member states, Bulgaria, Norway and Romania.

The Thematic Review was opened by Antonis Kastrissianakis, Director of DG EMPL. Antonis Kastrissianakis underlined the relevance of the theme of governance for the Lisbon Agenda. Both the Mid-Term Review of the Lisbon Strategy in April 2003 and the Kok Taskforce Report at the end of 2003 revealed important delivery gaps and the need to increase the effectiveness of public delivery systems. The Kok Report also emphasised the need for reform partnerships. The issue of governance is relevant to the three priorities recommended by the Spring European Council: developing a lifecycle approach to work and addressing the challenge of flexicurity, both within the perspective of an overall reform of the welfare system. The key to the successful implementation of these strategies is strong consultation, the development of consensus and a partnership-based approach. Although reforms are no guarantee for success, if they are carried out in the context of good governance, they have a good chance of succeeding.

Reform of delivery systems

Thematic expert Gill Whitting discussed the reform of the Public Employment Services as a key mechanism for delivering the European Employment Strategy. There have been a number of very significant reforms in both the „old‰ and the „new‰ member states in recent years. Her paper considered the drivers, the objectives and achievements of different types of reform and the obstacles encountered in the process of reform. It also looked at six reform themes in greater detail and gave concrete examples of reforms in member states to illustrate her points. The paper drew on recent research done for the UK MISEP meeting in Birmingham in 2005 and on the discussions at the MISEP meeting.

Country examples
United Kingdom: Jobcentre Plus
The first country example was the United Kingdom‚s Jobcentre Plus, a major reform of delivery systems, which involves the merger of the public employment service and the agency responsible for social security benefit payments. The presentation underlined the importance to the reformed structure, of partnership at different levels. The National Employer Panel, the Learning and Skills Council and the New Deal for Skills are crucial partners in the effective delivery of the operational strategies, Local Strategic Partnerships play an important role in finding out the clients‚ and employers‚ community needs in the field of social inclusion and the National Health Service is a key partner in the Incapacity Benefit Reform.

Finland: Labour Force Service Centres
The Finnish paper discussed the drivers for the introduction of the Labour Force Service Centres (LAFOS) in Finland and the critical success factors and preliminary outcomes of the initiative. LAFOS are service points for longer-term unemployed people and those with needs for extra support, based on multi-professional cooperation between regional and local bodies (PES, municipalities and the social insurance institute) which offer customers a broad range of support services including job search, rehabilitation or activation measures. Although Finland has experienced strong economic growth and low levels of unemployment in recent years, a solution has still not been found for structural and long-term unemployment. The Finnish speaker said „the best way to handle long-term unemployment is to prevent it‰ and this is the also the philosophy behind the LAFOS.

Reform partnerships

In his paper, thematic expert Jelle Visser provided a definition of partnerships and discussed their necessity in the implementation of reform. Partnership is essential to ensure support for reforms ˆ which is not always easy to mobilise as the recent attempt at labour market reform in France showed. Jelle Visser looked at different sources of implementation failure. Failure often occurs if insufficient attention is paid to who is responsible for the carrying out of reforms or if all the stakeholders (including the users) are not involved in the conception of the reforms. How to do things is as important as what to do, and this is an important part of learning from each other. Jelle Visser distinguished between different types of learning: trial and error, imitation and deliberative learning. He pleaded in favour of „intelligent‰, contextualised benchmarking and the widespread use of „puzzling and powering‰, i.e. puzzling about what to do and how to do it and powering to get reforms through. Although it may sometimes seem that partnerships can hold up decisions, decisions taken in partnership tend to be more sustainable in the long run.

Country examples
7th National Social Partnership Pact
The Irish country example concentrated on the 7th national social partnership pact and its relation to the national reform programme. The national social partnership pacts were initiated in 1987 in a situation of grave economic crisis in Ireland and contained a broad macro-economic strategy and wage agreements. They are credited with a major role in contributing to Ireland‚s success in achieving sustained non-inflationary economic growth. They were based on a long tradition of social partnership and voluntary collective bargaining between employers and unions. The regular partnership pacts now form the basis for the implementation of the Irish National Reform Partnership under the Lisbon Agenda, although difficulties sometimes arise in the synchronisation of the Partnership Agreements and the NRP.

Partnerships for training and skills development
The Italian country example focused on partnerships in the framework of public policies for training and skills development. Public training policies are needed to fill the delivery gap between the training provided by firms for a selection of employees and the vast majority excluded from company training policies. In Italy 1/5th of all workers receive training, and a 1/5th of all companies provide training. Up until 2004, training policy was funded by a tax on firms, and by the ESF and managed by the State and local government. A new approach was introduced in 2004 in which training is managed in a partnership between the main trade unions and the employers‚ associations at company level. The same public resources are now managed privately in the hope that their efficiency will be raised.

Czech Republic
The Czech country example focused on local partnerships for development and on the cooperation and division of competencies between the various administrative levels in the field of employment policy. Using the Liberec Region as an example, the paper described the various tasks of the Ministry and the job centres and the 14 so-called designated job centres which serve as umbrella organisations for the altogether 77 job centres in the Czech Republic. The job centres cooperate at local level with a wide variety of partners in the implementation of employment policy in the regions.

Views of the European social partners
Dirk Ameel from Eurocadres and Lorena Ionita from UNICE gave a brief account of their organisations‚ stance on governance. For Eurocadres, the labour market reforms need to take account of the changes at macro-economic level and focus on improving the qualifications of the workforce and the quality of jobs.

Lorena Ionita described the results of the assessment UNICE undertook of the National Reform Programmes, concluding that the NRPs lack new initiatives and their objectives are often too vague. There is a lack of confidence that they will really be implemented. With respect to governance, UNICE is of the opinion that better benchmarking tools are needed and more information on successful reform strategies. There has been deterioration in the involvement of the social partners in the NRPs, in particular in 2005. This could have been due to the short timescale for the drafting of the NRPs this year.

Reflections of the Employment Committee
Maarten Camps from the Employment Committee described the main conclusions of the Employment Committee on the NRPs. Similarly to UNICE, EMCO noted insufficient involvement of the social partners in the 2005 NRPs. EMCO also felt that now was the time to start implementing the strategies, with a strong commitment if the targets are to be reached. Furthermore, more attention should be given to overriding themes such as human capital, sustainable development, flexicurity etc.

Antonis Kastrissianakis gave a final statement highlighting the key issues of the seminar. Governments and the social partners throughout the EU have managed to create consensus on the need for reform and have successfully avoided policy reversals on account of a lack of ownership on the part of the delivery structures. The emphasis is now on implementation and governance and on partnership at various different levels. The two topics covered during the Thematic Review seminar did not cover the theme of governance exhaustively and the three Peer Reviews on governance will go into the different themes in greater detail. The next Thematic Review seminar will be held in autumn 2006.

Country Examples

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