Councillors and their councils have the democratic mandate, expertise and local insights to change our communities for the better.
Over the past few months, local government has shown extraordinary capability to lead communities through the coronavirus crisis.
As well as protecting people’s lives and keeping public services going, councils have been trusted to deliver advice and grants to local businesses, help the unemployed while Jobcentres dealt with universal credit claims, deliver a hardship fund to the most vulnerable, and keep adults learning through their community provision.
All of this has only been achieved because local government has the delivery infrastructure and relationships in place with residents, businesses, partners and agencies, and the ability to convene and mobilise quickly.
These connections are hard to cultivate at any other level and this has led to the real ‘added value’ local government has already brought to dealing with the economic implications of the crisis.
But we can do so much more and should be at the forefront of recovery. That’s exactly what the LGA’s jobs and skills recovery policy advocates, based on what you told us you needed: things like more apprenticeship levy flexibility; investment in local job support; accelerated investment to create jobs, including in the green economy; skills investment to retrain people to new jobs and existing vacancies when affected by job loss; and tailored support for adults and young people.
To bring this together, we need a co-design partnership with central government to maintain political focus; urgency of action and dialogue; local taskforces to pool expertise; and a multi-year, flexible local funding pot to turn decisions into action quickly.
It was good to hear the Chancellor announce initial training and employment support schemes in his Summer Economic Statement in July. As a local leader, my first reaction was that these schemes must join up, connect with local services, fit local needs, and link to local opportunities. In other words, we need to join it up, as we can ill-afford for people to fall through the cracks.
This is where we come into our own. We are ‘the’ place experts to coordinate a jobs and skills recovery plan.
In my area of Stoke-on-Trent, that’s what the Jobs, Enterprise and Training (JET) integrated employment service does every day, coordinating all-age careers advice, job support, apprenticeships, adult learning and sector skills support.
It now plays a lead role in the county-wide Redundancy Task Group, offering employment support to those made redundant and a jobs brokerage service to help local businesses recruit. Many of you have something similar.
Our job now is to convince the Government and Whitehall to localise resources so we can lead recovery for our communities, given we have the infrastructure in place. We already have the trust, with LGA polling showing 71 per cent of residents trust their council.
We are getting this message over to politicians and senior officials across Government; I spoke on these issues on behalf of the LGA at the Learning and Work Institute’s Employment and Skills Convention in July. Collectively, we can all play our part in pushing these messages.
Moving beyond the crisis, with a Devolution White Paper around the corner, employment and skills will be a key devolution ask for many of us. Our longstanding Work Local proposals provide a ready-made blueprint to make this happen.