Finding local solutions to the challenges ahead

By Sir Richard Leese | 16 June 2021

It is clear, as we look to recover from the pandemic, and with the ending of the Job Retention Scheme in September, that there could be an increase in the number of people in our communities facing unemployment or seeking to retrain to enter a new career.

Latest long-term unemployment projections suggest there could be an increase of one million people out of work by the end of this year, with those predominantly affected being between 16- to-25-year-olds as well as older people who have fared less well when trying to re-enter the labour market following previous recessions.

Throughout the pandemic, local government has been trusted to co-ordinate employment, training and business support for their local area. Many set up redundancy taskforces, delivered grants to businesses, supported employers to create new Kickstart placements, created more within their own councils, and kept adults learning through community provision and online support.

As the vaccine is rolled out and the economy opens up, local government is turning its attention to planning and supporting recovery. Councils are uniquely placed in their communities to convene and work with local and national partners to address these challenges. With adequate resourcing and powers, and the ability to work in partnership with national Government and others at an early stage, councils can help well-intended but often disconnected national schemes keep people in work and businesses recruiting.

This is why, working with the Learning and Work Institute and Rocket Science, we have produced a dedicated Local Skills and Employment Recovery Hub, pulling together best practice from across the sector as well as helpful jobs and skills recovery guides for the sector looking to tackle skills and employment issues in their local communities.

Although each council approached their response in different ways, there were some similar themes emerging about their experiences and situations and the common thread among them all was local leadership and partnership. Whether they were focused on shifting their service to online, working directly with businesses to mitigate impact or developing a coherent council-wide response, there have been some big shifts in the position of their employment and skills functions and offer and this provides important learning for the whole sector.

For example, in Devon, the council had to respond rapidly to the collapse of one of the region’s biggest employers – Flybe – as well as the other economic impacts bought on by the pandemic. It swiftly set up a redundancy support team, aimed at being the ‘joining glue’ for local support, including linking recently redundant workers to training support, through both the adult education budget and a £750,000 fund to provide training focused on transition to growth sectors.

In other examples, Halton BC, in the North East of England, and Hounslow LBC have both found a significant increase in vacancies in the healthcare sector, forming strong partnerships to help move people from other forms of local employment, notably Heathrow Airport and manufacturing, into temporary work in sectors with a growing number of vacancies.

The jobs and skills recovery guides seek to tackle the big challenges that every community will face: addressing youth employment; responding to job shocks, such as the closure of a large local employer; enabling retraining; improving basic skills; and tackling long-term unemployment. The guides pull together the evidence on what works, and give a framework for practical steps every councils can take to identifying the local challenge and potential responses.

A key first step is to map existing support. The complexity of employment and skills policy means there will often be disjoints or areas where better join-up would deliver better results. Given all delivery is ultimately local, this can only be done locally, and is a key role for councils.

There will always be issues where the evidence on what works is more limited, or where there are gaps in support. So, another step is identifying these gaps in evidence and support, and thinking about how best to fill them.

Perhaps the biggest message across all the guides is the role local government can play in making sure local growth, development and regeneration delivers good job and skills opportunities, and that local people can access these opportunities.

We face a big year to help increase employment, skills and growth. By working together locally across the sector, we have the passion and expertise to rise to the challenge.

Sir Richard Leese is the chair of the Local Government Association’s City Regions Board


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