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Taking it on the Chinn

Taking it on the Chinn

🕔18.Sep 2012

Don’t you just love Birmingham City Council scrutiny commitees?

Wait ages for something to happen, then like buses they all arrive at once.

Two important meetings clashed today. One was an inquiry into what it means to be a Brummie, deemed so important that proceedings were relayed globally live on the internet.

This ever popular parlour game, to which there are no right or wrong answers, or possibly no answers at all, gave an opportunity to the historian Professor Carl Chinn to reprise his well-worn claims that  working class Birmingham folk have been betrayed by the city council, excluded from decision making processes and generally covered with muck from a great height.

A clearly exercised Prof Chinn had brought a lot of baggage with him: council leaders are all middle class; the council doesn’t care for the Bullring markets, where working class people gather; swish shopping and leisure venues the Bullring, Mailbox and Brindleyplace aren’t for working class folk; Birmingham’s place as Britain’s ‘greatest manufacturing city’ doesn’t get enough airtime; young people must be made to realise that engineering jobs and apprenticeships will become increasingly important in adding value to the economy; and, naturally, the media is to blame for doing down Birmingham.

The second scrutiny meeting – an inquiry into Birmingham’s appalling skills gap – would have been of great interest to Prof Chinn, although an inability to be in two rooms at the same prevented him from attending.

If he had been able to get there he would have discovered two unpalatable facts. The first, that Birmingham’s skills crisis is the worst of any major city in England with the danger that school leavers will be increasingly unable to meet employers’ needs. The second, that it’s no good equipping young people for traditional metal-bashing manufacturing jobs because they are fast disappearing.

More than 160 pages of evidence presented to the skills inquiry made gloomy reading.

A far smaller proportion of the Birmingham workforce has been educated to degree or a-level standard than the rest of the country, while the city is also lagging behind on A-level qualifications.

A quarter of the working age population in Birmingham has a degree or equivalent, compared to almost 40 per cent in Manchester and more than 30 per cent in Sheffield, Newcastle and Leeds.

Almost one-fifth of Birmingham’s working age population has no qualifications at all.

While almost 60 per cent of school leavers have five A-C grade GCSEs in Birmingham, the proportion rises to 70 per cent in Newcastle and Manchester and 72 per cent in Leeds.

City council research shows the stubborn long-term nature of unemployment in the inner city wards, with a disproportionate impact on black and minority ethnic communities.

Unemployment is at more than 30 per cent in parts of Sparkbrook, Ladywood, Nechells, Aston, Lozells and East Handsworth, and is also high in white working class neighbourhoods – all areas where lack of academic qualifications is high.

Almost 20 per cent of the BME working age population is without work, compared to 10 per cent of the white population.

Without significant improvement in skill levels “the situation will deteriorate even further” as a result of Birmingham’s shift to a more knowledge-focussed economy.

Problems are compounded because one-third of available jobs are taken by 160,000 commuters who travel into Birmingham each day, reducing employment chances for the indigenous population. These are, presumably, largely middle class commuters stealing the jobs of working class Brummies, in Prof Chinn’s estimation.

What’s clear according to the research is that workforce demand is likely to change significantly over the next 13 years. Among higher skilled occupations, a 40 per cent jump in science and technical professionals is forecast as well as a 38 per cent increase in corporate managers.

Jobs in skilled trades will drop by 42 per cent while there will be a 34 per cent fall in demand for machine operators.  The sharpest increase in demand is forecast to be in the caring services sector, with a 38 per cent increase.

Unemployment in Birmingham has remained at roughly twice the national average since 2008.

Youth unemployment is particularly high, standing at 31.1 per cent in March 2012 compared to an average of 21.1 per cent for England. People in Birmingham aged between 16 and 24 are 3.3 times more likely to be unemployed than the over 25s.

The figures conflict with persistent claims by the council since 2004 that Birmingham schools are catching up the rest of the country in performance terms. It will be “decades” before a recent sharp improvement in GCSE passes significantly influences the overall working age qualification rates, according to the latest report.

The data also questions claims that Birmingham suffers particular problems because of the number of children for whom English is not a second language. While only 19 per cent of Pakistani children in Birmingham get two or more A-levels, the figure rises to 32 per cent in Manchester and 56 per cent in Liverpool.

While 34 per cent of Indian children leave school in Birmingham with two or more A-levels, the figure rises to 63 per cent in Manchester and 78 per cent in Liverpool.

Hope for improvement is being pinned on to an Employment and Skills Board organised by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. The board, with £500,000 funding, is employer-led and is charged with producing an annual skills priorities statement.

Undoubtedly, the LEP would be seen as a hopelessly out-of-touch middle class body by Prof Chinn.

What does it mean to be a Brummie? Well, a lifetime of unemployment and poverty wages would sum it up for far too many people.

 

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