Locally run employment schemes could help bring one million people back into the jobs market.
COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on our daily lives and the way we work, but it has also led to many people falling out of the workforce altogether, despite the easing of restrictions.
Employment figures for April 2022 show there were more than 1.2 million fewer people in the labour force than there would have been had pre-pandemic trends continued.
Nearly three-fifths of this gap – or 670,000 people – is explained by fewer people aged over 50 in the labour market, especially women, with fewer than a quarter claiming benefits.
When combined with figures also suggesting the largest annual growth in worklessness because of long-term ill health since records began in 1992, this increases the total to 2.38 million, its highest since 2004.
Lower migration is also an important contributing factor, with 94,000 more EU nationals leaving the UK than arriving in 2020. All of which adds up to the fact that addressing these shortages is key to our economic recovery.
Local government has workforce capacity issues of its own, which existed before COVID-19 but have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
In a recent LGA survey of councils, 69 per cent said that addressing the local mismatch between skills supply and demand and having sufficient skills provision for future growth sectors were critical, with shortages highlighted in adults’ social care, children’s services, planning, environmental health, and waste collection.
Analysis by the Learning and Work Institute, for the LGA’s refreshed Work Local programme, shows that the number of people improving their skills or finding work could increase by 15 per cent if councils and combined authorities were better able to coordinate and bring together employment and skills provision across a place.
This in turn boosts the prospects of residents and businesses, improving the health and wellbeing of local communities while reducing costs to the public purse.
It would help not just those who left the jobs market directly because of the pandemic, but also job seekers, learners, people seeking a career change and young people working out their careers path.
About £20 billion is spent by central government on at least 49 national employment and skills-related schemes or services in England, managed by nine Whitehall departments and agencies. The fragmented and disjointed nature of these schemes makes it difficult to target and join up provision.
As part of Work Local’s ambitious, practical vision for devolved and integrated employment and skills provision, the LGA is calling for a single place-based fund.
This would ensure funding and powers over national employment and skills-related schemes are devolved to local leaders, which could better support unemployed people into work, improve residents’ skills and match them with new and existing vacancies.
It would also make more sense than councils bidding for separate pots of funding for different projects, which cannot be used together.
Decisions about creating jobs locally must go hand-in-hand with how to support local people to have the necessary training and skills to apply for these jobs, which is fundamental to levelling up.
Councils and combined authorities are the only constant in this continually changing employment and skills landscape, and have used their knowledge, experience and capability to make the best of the current system.
Given the right powers and resources, they can do even more.