LGA jobs and skills recovery: an integrated local employment and skills offer, June 2020

During the COVID-19 crisis, local government has been trusted to support local businesses with advice and grants, help the unemployed while jobcentres dealt with universal credit claims, delivered a hardship fund to the most vulnerable, kept people learning online and supported the local training provider base.

The LGA has engaged with our member authorities to understand what is needed to aid local recovery, and this position was developed on the back of those discussions. We are actively working across the wider local government family and welcome further views from our member authorities on recovery plans. 

Working in partnership to develop a local offer

We are hearing loud and clear that recovery must be locally designed and delivered, as every area has different demographics, economic strengths and weaknesses. Past local economic shocks (BAE systems, Portsmouth, 2013, Phones4U, Staffordshire, 2014) were dealt with swiftly by local government bringing together local and national partners to coordinate support.

The Government’s recovery plans are likely to include investment in training and employment support and job creation (a jobs stimulus). Local government has a wealth of expertise, capacity and capability. Only at a local level is the delivery infrastructure in place and relationships built with residents and key stakeholders, enabling quick mobilisation and delivery. It must be used. Therefore, to assist national and local recovery, we believe a co-designed, locally integrated and delivered employment and skills offer within a broad, flexible national policy and funding framework is needed.

We stand ready to work in partnership with central government and national and local partners to co-design recovery initiatives. The following components are essential:

1. A flexible apprenticeship programme
  • If the Government were to enable local pooling of public Levy funds, local government could strategically plan provision across the area to address supply / demand side issues, target sectors to support the local economy, and widen participation to disadvantaged groups and specific cohorts. A proportion could be spent on pre-apprenticeship training / administration of programmes. This local activity would support the development of the recently announced Opportunity Guarantee.
  • The Treasury should pause its Levy funds expiry policy to avoid any funds already committed to apprenticeships activity which have been delayed due to the crisis period from expiring.
  • Establish / scale up local ‘training agency’ models recognising the need to plan for further disruption, while meeting businesses’ skills needs and keeping people employed. Introducing a levy payment holiday (up to six months) for businesses struggling with cashflow problems and allow employers to collaborate on transferring / pooling. DfE pause switch-off of frameworks until March 2021
2. Increased investment in employment support.

The Government should work with us to ensure those out of work have access to one-to-one support to prepare for and find work. These programmes need to be linked to other local services where more integrated and cross cutting support is required (health, mental health homelessness etc). Those unemployed pre-COVID should not be last in the queue for support. The Government should:

  • Ensure JCP works with local government to co-commission an increased pot of flexible support fund and signpost to other local job support; and
  • Invest in proven local discretionary and devolved job support programmes, and those run by charities, housing associations, colleges, training providers as well as ‘prime providers’. 
3. Furlough.

No sector, geographic, or employer size nuances have been factored into the revised furlough scheme due to end in October. If employers are unable to contribute to wages, and they make up a high proportion of employers in a local area, the risk of clustered redundancy remains severe. The Government should consider sector and / or area specific approaches, with local government supporting the transition.

4. Job creation

For people and places where back to work / training support is insufficient, a co-designed jobs stimulus is needed. This requires accelerated investment against a broad criteria to unlock business growth, built on in-demand growth sectors, reflecting the economic challenges and opportunities of different localities (city, coastal, rural). A Job Guarantee model should be designed with us building on lessons from past programmes, including:

  • Paid employment within occupational areas with good post-Covid job prospects e.g. considering LGA green jobs analysis
  • High quality online training relevant to local employment growth prospects.
  • Payment of the salary to be conditional on the learner participating fully in the both the employment and training elements of the programme
5. Increased, coordinated skills investment
  • This should help people retrain when affected by job loss or at risk of job loss, geared to newly created jobs and existing vacancies, and improve qualification levels of those most in need.
  • Sector Based Work Academies, for key sectors in each region, could be created, linking employers with training to support the rapid re-skilling of the local workforce.
  • Resources are needed to address the digital divide, both to access to digital skills training but also for physical kit to support learning and working online.
  • Training, including blended learning, should be delivered in the community (online and some in safe community spaces including libraries) by a joined up local provider base including independent training providers, local authority adult learning provision, and further and higher education.
  • Skills investment should be underpinned by a more robust local labour market-led careers advice and guidance system.
6. Specific support for young people
  • Local government has statutory responsibility for post-16 planning and for young people not in education, employment and training. With an increase in support needs for young people, it is vital that there is a coherent local offer for them.
  • Further investment is required to extend the September offer for guaranteed education, employment or training places for those due to leave school or college. This could include 40-day placements for T-Level students where apprenticeships are not viable, and an intermediate employment with training programme for young people. Maintenance grants for the disadvantaged and those at risk of, or who are NEET should be considered. Further details are expected on the Government’s Opportunity Guarantee for young people announcement.
  • Separately, graduates could be incentivised to stay local by utilising their skills to address shifting SME business and recruitment needs through for instance wage subsidy programmes.
7. Specific support for adults

Flexible, adjustment courses with maintenance grants are needed to retrain adults for local in-demand jobs, delivered through a well-connected, local provider base, with additional support for the over-50’s. This could be funded through increasing and fully devolving the Adult Education Budget, bringing forward National Skills Fund and National Retraining Scheme budgets, and publicly funding Level 3 qualifications (e.g. by converting FE learner loans budget into an adult training budget).

8. Council-run or commissioned adult and community education (ACE) provision

Council-run or commissioned adult and community education (ACE) provision supports 600,000 learners a year. During lockdown they have kept people learning by moving provision online but are ineligible for DfE emergency funding to cover such costs. The Government should provide funding for moving ACE provision online in the same way it has for schools and colleges.

To enable local government to lead jobs and skills recovery effort, we need:

  • National Cobra’ for jobs and skills to maintain political focus urgency of action and dialogue, bringing together Government departments and agencies, local and combined authorities, sector and trade representatives and key stakeholders. It is vital that there is national and local leadership with public accountability for investment and action.
  • Local jobs and skills taskforces (or similar employment and skills boards). These should recognise the different needs and delivery routes within places. These should reflect that much of the activity will need to be at a granular level, and be led by local government, bringing together national government and its agencies, local employers (large and small), further and higher education, providers, third sector, unions and other local stakeholders to pool local expertise and coordinate resources building on ‘rapid response’ models. It would roll in and link national initiatives (Skills Toolkit) to local opportunities.
  • A multi-year, flexible, outcome driven local funding pot combining careers advice, back to work, training support (increased AEB plus National Skills Fund and National Retraining Scheme), some apprenticeship funding and EU funds / UK Shared Prosperity Fund. Moving away from siloed funding would enable the genuine flexibility required to meet differing needs of each locality, enabling granular programmes of provision. Local labour market plans or similar, agreed with national government would set out cross Whitehall funding coming into the area, set outcomes, and delivery plans to mobilise partners, and ensure local and national public accountability for funding and outcomes.

Coming out of this, the Government should back and fund the trialling of the LGA’s ‘Work Local’ model for an integrated and devolved employment and skills system. It could, for a medium sized combined authority, lead to an additional 8,500 people leaving benefits, an additional 5,700 people increasing their qualifications. This would be associated with additional fiscal benefits for a local area of £280 million per year, with a benefit to the economy of £420 million.

We look forward to taking forward these discussions with the Government and relevant local and national partners.

For more information please email Jasbir.Jhas@local.gov.uk