01Policy priority 1: a quick win

Urgently respond to the SSI closure by setting out a plan to help people retrain and access other jobs.

  • Prioritise retraining those who lost their jobs
  • Work with Whitehall to gain the best results from investment in retraining
  • Learn from what has worked in other places

On taking office the metro mayor will face calls to fill the void created by the 2015 closure of the former SSI plant in Redcar. This is understandable given the scale of this economic shock despite the considerable progress already made by national and local government in responding to the closure. The metro mayor should co-ordinate and prioritise future interventions on supporting the people who lost their jobs, rather than the site itself.

Prioritise retraining those who lost their jobs

From day one, the metro mayor must have a plan to build on progress already made by providing those who lost their jobs following the closure of SSI with opportunities for retraining. Many of those who lost their jobs have since found work, but often in lower-skilled, lower-paid jobs than they previously held due to lower demand for their specific skills sets. This leads to lower productivity, and a poorer performing economy in aggregate. Repurposing the site matters but should be second to helping the people affected.

While acknowledging that achieving long term results is highly complex and will inevitably take time, clearly prioritising this issue from day one will show residents the new mayor can do and will signal the centrality of skills to his or her vision. It is also vitally important to the entire community that those made redundant from the steelworks are equipped with flexible skills that give them the best possible chance of accessing future opportunities in the Tees Valley.

Work with Whitehall to gain the best results from investment in retraining

The direct impact of the 3,000 jobs lost from the plant closure and the supply chain businesses will be hugely significant for individuals, communities and the city region for a long time. Central government committed in 2015 to an £80 million programme of support for those made unemployed in the wake of the SSI closure, including £30 million for redundancy and statutory entitlements and at least £3 million for retraining. A significant proportion of the remaining funds will be transferred to the combined authority, but the metro mayor will also have more informal powers to prioritise the relative importance of interventions in retraining over investments in repurposing the site.

The new metro mayor will be judged by their constituents on the effectiveness of these programmes, even though many aspects are beyond their formal powers and some of the funds have already been allocated. The metro mayor must therefore use their influence with central government, their new city region wide powers, and local knowledge and networks and to maximise the impact of investments made through these programmes. This means brokering relationships between employers and training providers, coordinating efforts to boost the retraining opportunities through apprenticeships and ensuring individuals have access to good quality careers advice.

Learn from what has worked in other places

The metro mayor should set up and administer proper evaluations of the retraining programmes in the Tees Valley. These evaluations will help ensure that investments are having their desired impact. The metro mayor can use this to promote a culture of evaluation amongst his or her team. Taking on board lessons from previous evaluations of how other places and employers have managed retraining programmes following major job losses is fundamental to effective decision-making. While there are no easy answers, the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth has evaluated previous studies of these interventions and produced a toolkit that highlights several considerations to take forward.

Retraining programmes should be tailored to individuals. One study suggests that a higher proportion of expenditure allocated to individual case management is positively associated with reemployment rates, which suggests support that is tailored to the individual can have more of an impact than a more generalist approach. The mayor should work with skills providers and businesses to ensure retraining programmes are both tailored to the needs of individuals and employers, and ensure different groups receive the assistance they need.

The metro mayor should also use their position to ensure that those who have been affected by job losses are receiving the right type of support. The impacts of training, for example, vary depending on the skills level of the recipient, with higher skilled users apparently responding better to short-term interventions. Evidence from one study suggests that shorter courses (less than one year) have larger effects for more experienced workers and longer courses (more than a year) are better suited to less experienced workers.

The metro mayor will need to use their links with businesses, skills providers and central government to make the most of the funds available for those who lost their jobs following the closure of SSI. Although the metro mayor might not have formal powers over some aspects of how this money is spent, they are likely to be held accountable for the results, and must use their informal powers to best administer these investments. This means ensuring that individuals receive the training they need to access a wide spread of jobs across the Tees Valley. It will be hugely important for individuals and the wider city that investments in retraining reflect what has been shown to work in other places.