02Policy priority 2: Get people back into work
- Support people that are economically inactive to be work-ready. The specific barriers behind individuals’ lack of participation in the labour market should be identified and resolved.
- Conduct an audit of adult education spend in the West Midlands. The mayor should identify where money is being spent on adult learning to reduce duplication and target the most effective assistance to benefit individuals and the wider economy.
- Embed evaluation in the numerous employment and training programmes currently piloted in the city region. This will provide better evidence on what works to inform future interventions both at the local and national level.
Creating jobs has been a priority during the current mayoral term and should continue to be top of the agenda after the election and pandemic. The West Midlands city region had one of the lowest employment rates across the country even before Covid-19, and Birmingham is the weakest performer within the city region (68 per cent against a national average of 76 per cent). Before the pandemic, over half a million people were unemployed in the city region, and it had the highest claimant count rate of any mayoral combined authority at 5.2 per cent. This has been compounded by the impact of Covid-19 on the economy since, with the claimant count rate now standing at 9.3 per cent (it continues to be the highest rate of any mayoral combined authority).5
The mayor will need to focus in particular on supporting people to be work-ready. Behind the city region’s low employment rate there is a high level of economic inactivity. But research by Centre for Cities and the OECD found that approximately 155,000 people that were ‘economically inactive’ in the West Midlands before the pandemic could be work-ready if given adequate support.6 Identifying and addressing the complex challenges that prevent people from getting a job will boost participation in the city region’s economy, with positive implications for wages, living standards and productivity.
The mayor should also undertake an audit of all skills spending in the West Midlands. Large sums of money are spent by a multitude of bodies in the city region to address its major skills challenges. But it’s not clear how much money this amounts to and how these bodies are spending it. Mapping this out would be the first step for the mayor to get this money to work much harder to address the skills issues the West Midlands faces.
Alongside this, the mayor should continue to take steps to streamline provision. The Government has recently announced its own attempt to streamline provision across the country, working with chambers of commerce. The risk here is that it inadvertently undoes the ongoing work that the mayoral office has led on in recent years. To avoid this, the mayor should aim to work with the local chambers on continued attempts to both improve provision of courses and drive up demand for them, rather than duplicating efforts.
Embedding evaluation in the numerous employment and training programmes currently piloted will determine how best to spend existing funding. To ensure an efficient use of resources, each initiative should come with an evaluation system that includes a control group and sets specific goals. This will help identify what has been successful and what has not. Overall, this approach should accelerate impact and inform future policy approaches both in the city region and at the national level, while making best use of scarce public resources.