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9,000 jobs and workforce skills revolution in council pledge for east Birmingham

9,000 jobs and workforce skills revolution in council pledge for east Birmingham

🕔24.Feb 2015

Plans to create 9,000 new jobs, build 1,000 homes and improve shopping provision across some of Birmingham’s poorest areas have been unveiled by the city council, reports Paul Dale.

The East Birmingham Growth Prospectus was launched today by council leader Sir Albert Bore with a pledge to end a record of systemic unemployment and to concentrate on upskilling the workforce.

However, the council has warned the prospectus must be seen as a long term plan.

Much of the planned growth and new jobs are predicted off the back of high speed rail, with HS2 stations in the city centre and at the NEC, as well as the extension of the Midland Metro tram system to Adderley Park. HS2 will not arrive until 2026 at the earliest.

A new employment and skills partnership chaired by council chief executive Mark Rogers will be able to tap into £1 million of funding from the Department for Work and Pensions to provide pre-employment training linked to vacancies.

And in a parallel development it was confirmed that the Government has agreed to free up land at the former LDV-Alstom plant in Washwood Heath, creating the space for 2,334 jobs.

It had been feared the LDV-Alstom land would be blighted for years after the entire site was earmarked by HS2 bosses for a high speed rail maintenance depot and marshalling yard.

The area covered by the growth prospectus covers more than a quarter of Birmingham, taking in Erdington, Stockland Green, Nechells, Saltley, Washwood Heath and Shard End. Unemployment in the six wards is 9.5 per cent compared with a city-wide average of 6.5 per cent. Youth unemployment is more than 20 per cent.

Sir Albert admitted that previous attempts to regenerate east Birmingham had failed, chiefly because school leavers and unemployed adults often lacked the skills to secure jobs on offer.

At least 10,000 jobs remain vacant each month across Birmingham, many at entry level for young adults, because local applicants are not seen as suitably qualified by employers.

The skills shortfall was highlighted recently in the Kerslake Review of Birmingham council’s governance capabilities, with a warning that the issue must be addressed urgently.

Sir Albert was accompanied at the prospectus launch by three MPs – Jack Dromey (Erdington), Shabanah Mahmood (Ladywood) and Liam Byrne (Hodge Hill). The ambitious growth plans could provide a welcome boost to Labour in the run up to the General Election, particularly in white working class areas where the party may be under threat from Ukip.

Mr Byrne and the council fought to rescue part of what is the largest vacant industrial site in Birmingham, enabling new development to take place long before the 2026 arrival of HS2. Last year Mr Byrne told a Commons debate that reserving the entire Westwood Heath site for HS2 could cost Birmingham 7,000 new jobs and was “the grimmest of scenarios”.

Mr Byrne described the prospectus as “a big day for east Birmingham” and the best jobs news for a generation. He added: “Birmingham will not reach its potential unless east Birmingham reaches its potential. Birmingham will not flourish unless east Birmingham flourishes.

“We have had to think long term in this plan. The game changer is HS2 but it is long term initiative.

“We have to explain to residents that this is not just a nice glossy plan that will sit on a shelf.”

The plan identifies 3.7 million sq.ft of new employment floor-space as the home for 9,000 new jobs including 3,000 jobs at Bordesley Park, and 1,000 new homes and improvements to local community and shopping provision in the Eastern Triangle – including Shard End.

A new relationship between the council and the Department for Work and Pensions is seen as vital if the growth prospectus is to live up to its promise.

Mr Rogers was blunt about past failures: “The DWP had probably the worst performance in the country in Birmingham for getting people into the jobs that are available. But it is starting to turn that around with our support.

“You will see individuals moving into work readiness programmes and then into jobs.”

The announcement may help address claims that the council is concentrating too much on redeveloping Birmingham city centre at the expense of inner city wards where unemployment is way above the UK average – another criticism laid out in the Kerslake Review.

Writing in the Birmingham Post last week, John Clancy, the Labour backbench councillor who will challenge Sir Albert Bore for the council leadership, described plans to turn Snow Hill into a new Canary Wharf with glitzy high-rise office blocks as “municipal madness”.

Claiming that most of the 10,000 financial services jobs to be created at Snow Hill would not go to Birmingham people, Cllr Clancy added: “I’ve no problem with building on this city’s long and successful history in financial services and utility banking. Let’s invest in that. But to suggest effectively that we base the future economic development, construction, infrastructure and regeneration of the city upon it is tired and dangerous thinking.

“It is unambitious, one-dimensional and concentrates the idea of a city on its centre. We need to re-imagine and re-think the city in terms of its entirety – access all areas.”

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