Tees Valley Combined Authority: Routes to Work

Tees Valley Combined Authority aims to grow the local economy by focusing on transforming education, employment and skills across the area. Their Routes to Work pilot has supported almost 4,000 people and helped nearly 800 back into employment across the Tees Valley.

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About Tees Valley Combined Authority

Established in 2016, Tees Valley Combined Authority (CA) is a partnership of five councils in north east England: Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees, serving approximately 700,000 residents.

Vision for the local area

Tees Valley CA is driving forward an ambitious agenda for growth focused on transforming education, employment and skills across the area, with the aim of filling 133,000 new jobs that will be available in the region by 2024, whilst ensuring that local residents have increased access to the jobs created. Shona Duncan, Head of Education, Employment and Skills, said the five councils are proactive in their work around employability – leading the delivery of local support, funded by a variety of funding streams, and providing a range of different routes and products.

“What we have been discussing collectively, and what the combined authority is driving towards, is supporting councils and wider partners to collaborate, and getting all these different projects much more joined up and aligned – so that we end up with a single local point of contact for a service user. We want an objective information and guidance system that is supportive both in terms of signposting and mentoring.”

Work the combined authority is undertaking

For the past three years, the Tees Valley CA has successfully delivered the Routes to Work pilot through local employment hubs. Funded by DWP (£6 million) and the combined authority (£1.5 million), it helps those most distant from the labour market to prepare for and access work.

Since 2018, Routes to Work has supported almost 4,000 people and helped nearly 800 back into employment across the Tees Valley. Despite its success the project ends March 2022, being replaced with the national ‘Restart’ programme. While the combined authority was engaged with supporting DWP to procure the successful provider of Restart, the councils have not been directly engaged in designing it or selected as a sub-contractor to deliver it.

Tees Valley CA is developing the Teesworks site, the UK’s largest industrial zone, into a hub for future job creation centred around advanced manufacturing, innovation and clean growth. In an area with low skills and high unemployment, the combined authority recognised the need to ensure that employers could recruit local people with the right skills. To meet this challenge, in 2020 Tees Valley CA launched the ‘Teesworks Skills Academy’ , with a delivery partner leading a consortium of colleges and training providers.

This provides a single point of contact for Teesworks employers and will help to assess skills needs, recruit, and address skills challenges. The combined authority is using its devolved funding and powers to solve those challenges.

“Some of that is about creating flexibilities from the funding regimes we already have – funding different types of qualifications or modules, for example,” said Shona.

Within six months of opening, more than 1,000 local people had registered their CVs with Teesworks Skills Academy and more than 200 had taken part in training. Individuals access it through the local employment hub, run by Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council. A purpose-built base is under construction, but most provision will be delivered directly through the colleges and training providers.

Opportunities, barriers and potential solutions

Routes to Work showed that joining up provision can work really well. However, Shona said, this is not easy in a nationally procured operating model.

“‘Restart’ coming in will require partners, including councils, to consider how they can engage and support the providers. This will take time and potentially reduce some of the benefits of previous aligned work.”

Tees Valley has some youth hubs, created with Jobcentre Plus, but their location can be a barrier as they were not always set up in consultation with the local council or in the most accessible location.

The funding landscape is critical and there is uncertainty around the new Shared Prosperity Fund.

“We have this vision of a one-stop-shop across the Tees Valley, access to the right employment and skills support regardless of administrative boundaries, but the eligibility criteria or constraints attached to the fund will determine how effectively councils and combined authorities can access or use the funding. It’s not about the ability or willingness to do it – our councils are absolutely committed – it’s just that we need the tools.

“One thing we need to do differently is create the opportunity for alignment of programmes and projects. It’s not as simple as co-location – it has to be about the wider landscape, because we have hundreds of stakeholders and providers. It all comes back to the councils and combined authority working together to really understand a local area, and joining up provision so that it’s simple and accessible for people and employers, ” explained Shona.

She also believes greater devolution would help.

“More devolved funding, with flexibilities built in, would mean we can achieve more. It would ensure residents can access support and opportunities locally whilst ensuring our businesses have access to a skilled workforce when they need it.”

While devolution is not always about money, funding is an essential part of enabling local influence and delivering accessible support.

“The alternative is that we look at having greater influence of employment and skills design in a local area early on, prior to procurement. Where provision has to be nationally procured, more notice needs to be taken of the needs of the local area, including what works locally in creating a collaborative, aligned, simple support infrastructure for people and businesses. This also includes identifying those providers with a proven track record of working locally in an aligned and collaborative way,” said Shona.

The local perspective

Redcar resident Jordan Taylor, 30, was one of the first to progress through the Teesworks Skills Academy. He registered in April 2021 and completed a ‘routeway to scaffolding’ course with provider Neta Training Group. He achieved six qualifications and now works for a Middlesbrough scaffolding firm. Redcar & Cleveland Council’s training and employment hub helped Jordan to access a bike and a train pass so he could get to work.

“I’ve worked all my life, so when I found myself unemployed, I wanted to get straight back into a job. It only took a few weeks from me signing up to the Skills Academy to being placed on a training course so I could gain some new qualifications and get another job. The whole process was spot-on – it was easy, friendly and fast…and I’ve already sent two people I know to the academy,” said Jordan.


Shona Duncan, Head of Education, Employment and Skills - [email protected]  

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