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What should the Mayor do on skills & housing?

What should the Mayor do on skills & housing?

🕔10.Aug 2017

Andy Street says that negotiations have started over Devolution Deal II and that skills and housing will be the main strands when announced in the Chancellor’s Budget.

As Mr Street prepares to mark 100 days in office, we asked two friends of the Chamberlain Files for their thoughts on what the Mayor has done and what they are looking for next in skills and housing.

Experts might be out of fashion in some quarters, but we think they’re worth a read….

Rebecca Riley, Business Development Director, City-REDI, University of Birmingham.

Skills is a significant issue for West Midlands but it’s structural and deep seated nature means 100 days of Mayoral activity is only the start.

Solutions are long term and require fundamental changes to the regional economy, labour market and delivery structures. It’s vital the Mayor puts in place a programme of change that embeds a culture of skills investment, one which enables the high numbers of those with low and no qualifications to engage in any growth generated in the region.

ANALYSIS: Street 100 – what’s the score?

In the first 100 days we have seen some positive action with the first meeting of the technical group for the Productivity and Skills Commission. This is the initial step to coordinating skills and training interventions and creating a regional strategic approach.

The new Director of Strategy once in post needs to grasp this activity and develop a delivery plan on its findings.This independent business-led commission looking at skills needs and the productivity issues in the region should provide leadership around long term fundamental change. With high level support for this work from Cllr George Duggins, as portfolio lead for skills and productivity, and Andy Palmer of Aston Martin leading the commission, we should hopefully see the drive for change needed.

Although we have yet to hear about the responses to the consultation carried out before the Mayor was appointed we already know the Commission and the Combined Authority is concerned with skills issues right across the spectrum – including high level skills shortages  which is of increasing concern in light of Brexit and already holding businesses back.

The wider impact of Brexit is likely to exacerbate any issues we are already facing us as  a region and skills is no different. For example, in a region which can benefit from the greater export growth through falling sterling we are seeing constraints emerge due to lack of skilled people in the manufacturing sector which may be constraining our potential short term gains.

Although the region is doing relatively well there is low take up of apprenticeships nationally and one area the Mayor can have a significant impact is to raise the profile of apprenticeships and continue to promote them as a high quality route to many of the professions we are seeing shortages in. As part of this it’s important to lobby for greater say over the use of the apprenticeship levy regionally which will help fund the training and development local industries need.

A key development in the first 100 days was the support announced on 1 August to benefit disadvantaged people. Aimed at creating a place-based approach, making use of social networks to leverage access to support and information for disadvantaged people. Alongside discussions about a Citizen’s Curriculum to ensure people have capabilities to get into (and then sustain) work.

As a businessman, Andy more than most politicians will know how vital skills are to business growth and how important it is for individuals to continue to learn. However, many of the structures and delivery bodies are not under the direction of the mayor, therefore focus should be given to developing shared commitments and goals to align delivery bodies. He has extensive support from the region’s universities but he will still face the issue that most of the skills structure is delivered by a government department that has had a lack lustre approach to devolution.

No mayor is capable of solving the skills issues and we could argue that a growing thriving economy will always have skills issues as the labour market tries to keep pace. The key thing to note In the first 100 days is that skills remain prominent, that we have a high level review underway and Andy continues to work to change the culture in the region to put us on the track for long term, inclusive change.

Prof Simon Collison and Prof Anne Green from City-REDI are members of the Productivity and Skills Commission technical group. 

Mike Best, Senior Director, Turley

As a supporter of Metro Mayors in principle and this Mayor in particular, I am pleased to see the progress that has been made on devolution, specifically on transport. However, in respect of land and housing, the first 100 days has not been spectacular. The only commitment Andy Street made was to agree Action Plans in three areas including Housing, but this one has yet to materialise.

At the Mayor’s second WMCA board meeting in June, it was agreed to appoint PwC to review the recommendations of the Land Commission which had reported back in February.

There was much debate about how these would be taken forward given that, at the same time, the 14 Greater Birmingham Housing Market Area authorities are undertaking a study of how to deliver 165,000 homes across the area by 2031, and the 4 Black Country Authorities have begun a review of their Joint Core Strategy looking to 2036.

All deadlines collide in September, so we must wait another month before that particular spider’s web can be disentangled. The Green Belt in the West Midlands has long grass into which everything seems to get kicked.

READ: Street – 100 words on 100 days.

Of course, with only a three year term until May 2020, the Mayor’s focus will be quite rightly be on housing delivery particularly given his brownfield first commitments, and we await to see how the various funding streams are deployed. To date, the Collective Investment Fund has only granted £3.7m to two sites in Coventry City Centre. I expect to see more announcements and action over the coming months.

With the positive news that a further Devolution Deal is being discussed, I am still hoping that strategic planning powers can be on the table, but there is little appetite amongst Council Leaders. The experience in Greater Manchester, where new Mayor Andy Burnham has overridden the consensus built between the authorities and demanded a re-write of the Spatial Framework, is not selling the idea. We will not deliver effective growth, especially on the scale anticipated in the WMCA’s own Strategic Economic Plan, without it but I am not holding my breath.

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