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Birmingham looks to HS2 for jobs, but skills crisis remains serious

Birmingham looks to HS2 for jobs, but skills crisis remains serious

🕔13.Oct 2014

The importance to the West Midlands of high speed rail – which is expected to create 19,000 jobs in the vicinity of the planned Birmingham Curzon station alone – has been highlighted by fresh research claiming that HS2 could be worth £40 billion to the UK economy.

Leaked forecasts from accountancy firm EY suggest thousands of new offices, retail outlets and homes will spring up in the communities surrounding the nine HS2 stations on the route between London, Birmingham and the north of England.

Residential and commercial schemes already underway around three stations on the route – Birmingham Curzon Street, Old Oak common in London and Manchester Piccadilly – will generate £1 billion every year until 2035 when the project is completed, it is claimed.

According to EY, these hubs will deliver 7,000 new homes and 40,000 jobs as well as 850,000 square feet of office space.

A deal between the Government and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership will see £357 million invested in the Curzon Street area, eventually creating up to 19,000 jobs, 6,000 homes and generating in the region of £110 million in private investment.

Birmingham council is forming a regeneration company in partnership with key stakeholders to take forward the Curzon Master plan. Funding of £30 million to enable the company to deliver infrastructure to support development activity across the Birmingham Curzon area has been approved by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP (GBSLEP).

The job creation prospects offer a glimmer of hope for Birmingham, where average unemployment stands at 7.2 per cent, which is more than twice the UK average and almost double the West Midlands average.

In August 2014, almost 35,000 adults in Birmingham were claiming unemployment benefits with more than one third out of work for more than 12 months.

Youth unemployment is a major issue. Just under a quarter of claimants are aged 18 to 24, although proportions in the inner city wards of Washwood Heath, Bordesley Green and Hodge Hill are approaching 30 per cent.

Council officials admit they are in a race against time to make sure the city’s skills deficit can be turned around to put Brummies in a good position to snap up the HS2 jobs as well as roles coming on stream next year when a new John Lewis store opens at the Grand Central development next to New Street Station.

A report before the city council’s economy scrutiny committee states that Britain’s nationally-controlled delivery model for employment and skills is far too top-down and fails to meet the specific needs of Birmingham.

“Tackling these problems requires a more locally co-ordinated approach. The Work Programme is not closely enough connected to a range of other local employability and skills programmes.

“Neither does it connect well to other local services like health, care and education which are often key to addressing the underlying issues faced by claimants.

“There has been the removal of skills funding targets, complex funding systems and bureaucratic practices, with the aim of empowering learners, employers and providers. However there remain significant challenges to meeting our shared goals of a growth-focused skills system which provides for local economic resilience and improved opportunities for people.”

Addressing youth unemployment remains a priority. An additional £1 million has been made available by the council to create a more joined up offer, which ensures that all services work better together and can be easily accessed by all young people.

The Youth Offer review has mapped the current services available to young people in Birmingham and reviewed best practice examples both locally and nationally. Councillor Penny Holbrook, cabinet member for learning skills and culture, is leading on the development of Birmingham’s Youth Offer which will be launched in November.

The council points to a range of recent successes. During its first year Birmingham Jobs Fund helped 1,336 young people into employment, against a target of 1,000, by resourcing two key activities:

  • The Young Talent for Business Campaign, a call to arms to employers to recruit young people into jobs and apprenticeships, offered financial incentives for employing young unemployed people from Birmingham
  • Local Exemplar Initiatives (LEIs), commissioned late in 2013 with the aim of providing young people identified as being furthest from the labour market with intensive employability skills and coaching support, in an effort to progress them into sustained employment. The Initiatives met and exceeded targets. In the first year, 146 young people started on a programme and 52 were recruited into employment – rising to a total of 91 this year.

Agreement has been reached with Cabinet Office to allocate £4 million for tackling youth unemployment in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) area. This youth employment programme will see a package of enhanced delivery in support of young people focused on 18-24 year old JSA claimants from their 13th week of claim.

The project is designed to build on the local multi-agency approach with intensive mentoring support for young job seekers linked to their claimant commitment through joint working with Destination Work commissioned providers, Connexions service and DWP coaches.

The Talent Match Partnership led by BVSC has secured £7.6 million to target 18-24 year olds who have been out of work, education or training for 12 months or more, to help them find work, move to further education, or to set up their own enterprises.

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