Councillor Brett O’Reilly, cabinet member for jobs and skills, talks about meeting counterparts in Rotterdam and how Birmingham needs to Step Forward in a post-EU Britain.
It should go without saying that jobs and skills are key to tackling the many problems faced by cities and most importantly their citizens.
Earlier this week I was at Jaguar Land Rover talking about how we need to improve the skills of the people of Birmingham and the region. Yesterday I met colleagues in Rotterdam to discuss the importance of finding – and funding – local solutions for local issues. And for me, how we move forward post-EU.
If cities are given the funding and powers to tailor localised solutions to localised problems we will step up and achieve sustainable outcomes that simply cannot be achieved by national policies alone.
A good example of this is the Youth Promise Plus. The UK employment and skills landscape is generally driven by national policies and implemented via national agencies. Here in Birmingham we have challenged this model for a number of years and although there has been little appetite for such a radical change centrally, there is a recent example of what can be achieved if cities are empowered to act.
The way the EU’s Youth Employment Initiative was set up meant initiatives could not be delivered by Government national bodies, so cities could make direct bids for funding. Birmingham pulled together a substantial strategic partnership involving all key actors and stakeholders in our city to create the Birmingham and Solihull Youth Promise Plus. The city council took strategic ownership and strategic leadership to broker a partnership which pulled together knowledge, expertise and resources from across the city that could ensure we could get provision to the most deprived and excluded residents in the city which previous national provision never reached. We ultimately secured an approval for a £50m project which will provide individualised, tailor-made and wrap-around support for over 16,000 young unemployed people in Birmingham.
This is project is still in its infancy so we can’t yet say whether it will be a success. But in the context of today, it is an illustration that, given the powers and funding, cities are able to step up to the challenge, mobilise partners, and broker an effective local response to very individualised challenges faced by young unemployed people today. This sure has to be a model and blueprint for jobs and skills provision moving forward.
But of course the elephant in the room is that we are leaving the European Union. So not only do we need to ensure we maintain investment plans based on current EU funding, and ensure long-term repatriation of funds comes down to local level, we have to think about how our skills base will change.
If the freedom of movement – and consequent variety of skills – that this city has benefited from is curtailed it becomes even more important to broaden and improve the skills base in Birmingham, something I talked about yesterday to employers from across the city. Skills don’t automatically convert into jobs and growth; they have to be the right skills and people need to be able to adapt to changes in the labour market. So it was great to learn from colleagues in Europe about what we can all do – whether we are in or out of the EU – to develop the right skills from an early age, ensure they are properly utilised, and stimulate the creation of high-skilled and high value-added jobs so we can compete more effectively in the global economy.
So as the UK negotiates the terms of its exit from the EU it is critical that English cities are able to sustain and create jobs and skills for the future. This includes sharing ideas and good practice with other cities as well as fully understanding the real impact of any free movement restrictions in critical sectors in Birmingham. Most importantly, the lessons learned from projects such as the Youth Promise Plus should provide the evidence needed to demonstrate the positive impact cities can make if they are given tools and funding to step up. A post-EU Birmingham, through accelerated and enhanced devolution, will maximise opportunities and make Birmingham the Skills City.