A big lesson from the pandemic is the role local government plays

13 Jun 2021, 6:00

Councils have had to respond to the collapse of some of their region’s biggest employers, writes Richard Leese

As the vaccine is rolled out and the economy opens up, local government is turning its attention to planning and supporting recovery.

With the powers to work in partnership with national government and others, 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 grant management services company Rocket Science, we have produced a dedicated Local Skills and Employment Recovery Hub.

It includes a number of resources to help councils understand and develop their thinking around employment and skills programmes as we emerge from the pandemic.

The hub also pulls together best practice as well as helpful jobs and skills recovery guides for those, including colleges, looking to tackle skills and employment issues in their local communities.

Although each council approached their response in different ways, some common themes emerged about their experiences and situations. One common thread 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 their employment and skills offer.

The hub pulls together best practice and jobs and skills recovery guides

For example in Devon, the county council had to respond rapidly to the collapse of one of the region’s biggest employers, Flybe. They set up a redundancy support team, aimed at being the “joining glue” for local support.

This included 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 Borough Council in the north-west of England, and the London Borough of Hounslow found a significant increase in vacancies in the healthcare sector.

They have formed strong partnerships to help move people from other forms of local employment, notably in manufacturing and at Heathrow Airport, into temporary work in these sectors.

Meanwhile in Shropshire, the council faced issues common to many rural authorities, where sectors have been impacted by the effects of Brexit on the agricultural sector. By working with local employers, they have encouraged more businesses to relocate to the area as they move out of bigger cities.

This close working with local businesses on the ground is mirrored in many councils, including in Essex, where the council supported local businesses to adapt as they reopened again after periods of lockdown.

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 here councils play a key role.

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 from these case studies is the role local government can play in making sure local growth, development and regeneration delivers good job and skills opportunities.

Of course, this is more important than ever as we seek to recover from the pandemic. With the end of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, there could be an increase in the number of people in our communities facing unemployment or seeking to retrain.

Those predominantly affected will be between 16 and 25 years old, as well as older people who have fared less well when trying to re-enter the labour market after previous recessions.

Councils are uniquely placed in their communities to convene with local and national partners, including colleges, to address these challenges.

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