Please note: This is an archive file from TGLP’s previous website therefore the date and time stamp will not reflect the date of actual posting.
Heidi Alexander MP, Former Vice Chair, Skills and Employment
“We live in a fantastic world city where people get on with one another and where people, irrespective of where they come from, have the chance to succeed.”
These were my words a year ago when I was asked about the best thing about London. Whilst none of us could have imagined the changes that have rocked the London economy over the last 12 months, it is more important than ever that we – the public sector and our partners focus upon what we can do to ensure that our residents still have the chance to succeed.
This is a critical time for the London Thames Gateway. Like everywhere else, things are changing quickly – rising levels of unemployment and a loss of confidence in the business base are compounding the challenges faced by our communities who have historically had low skills levels and exhibited above average levels of worklessness.
We need to work fast and as a partnership we feel we are well placed to respond: the councils are some of the biggest employers in each borough and the public sector as a whole accounts for over 25% of employment across the sub region. There are also real opportunities to tap into new and emerging markets; building global skills for a global city whilst mitigating the environmental costs of the decisions we make.
Our challenge in developing a response will include a review of the changing nature of job creation and where new job growth may be expected. This will give us the opportunity to better plan for future skills requirements, whether these are at new retail hubs such as Stratford City or in the emerging environmental technology industries. We will also consider how to improve the offer that will help to retain businesses in London Thames Gateway and increase confidence within our complex employer market.
I particularly want us to focus on three priorities in the coming year: tackling worklessness, work force development, and looking at how best to secure an educational legacy from the Olympic Games.
Effects of the economic downturn and worklessness
Even before the effects of the current economic crisis became apparent, there were already comparatively high levels of unemployment in a number of London Thames Gateway boroughs. The unemployment rate in eight of our eleven boroughs now exceeds the overall London average.
Our research suggests that the first effects of the economic downturn began to appear from June 2008 onwards, resulting in a sudden increase in jobseeker claimants. I said before that things are moving fast and this rate of increase has since accelerated, with the result that there are now an additional 13,000 jobseeker claimants across London Thames Gateway, an increase of 26%. Surprisingly, the increase in jobseekers is particularly severe in the outer London Thames Gateway boroughs. Bexley (+76%), Havering (+75%) and to a lesser extent, Redbridge (+48%) have witnessed significant increases in unemployment. Even within my own borough of Lewisham we have seen a 24% increase in jobseekers.
We will examine the role the public sector can play in tackling worklessness. We will work with central government to explore how we can best use apprenticeship programmes, looking at quality as well as quantity, and look at other options such as fast tracking unemployed private sector professionals into the public sector, where appropriate. We are also developing a Thames Gateway wide internship programme and will work proactively with the LDA who are charged with developing skills provision.
While it can seem as if all eyes are on the Olympics and the employment opportunities already being created, we must not lose sight of the other major infrastructure development coming to the sub region; Crossrail. We already know that 11,000 jobs will be created requiring specialist skills during construction and we must make sure that our residents have access to these jobs, and to the proposed specialist construction academies that will furnish the right skills for these jobs. We will also review the economic impact on the sub region and employment opportunities from Crossrail’s delivery, which could be substantial, particularly for our outer London boroughs.
Workforce development: the skills challenge and engaging with business
One of our biggest challenges will be to produce the level of skills required by the workforce in order to satisfy future demand for jobs. There has been a longstanding mismatch between the skills of local residents and the skills and competences required by employers, with overall skill levels in London Thames Gateway boroughs significantly below the London average. We must ensure that our current and future residents are equipped to compete in the open market; recognising that improved transport links will bring challenge as well as opportunity.
Part of this is about raising aspirations of children and young adults, increasing participation in post-compulsory education and widening access to higher education: all critical if local residents are to take advantage of the opportunities the Thames Gateway offers.
The eight higher education institutions that are part of the TGLP family already educate in excess of 116,000 students, 50% of whom are from the LTG area – and within a regional context their activities account for almost a third of total student provision. Additionally, through the development of KnowledgeEast, the business-focused network of eight universities and colleges in East London and Thames Gateway, employers have access to the expertise and facilities of 5,000 academics and some of the UK’s highest-rated research departments. These co-ordinated interventions between business and universities (knowledge transfer) will play an increasingly important role in developing the skills of our residents and markets of tomorrow.
World class Olympic legacy educational facility
We are extremely keen to play our part as the Mayoral proposal to develop a world class educational Olympic legacy facility in the Gateway develops. TGLP and our Higher Education Group want to ensure that the wider Gateway context is properly recognised and that we maximize the benefits of any new facility for our existing residents as well as new students who may be attracted to the Gateway.
Despite the current economic climate, there are encouraging signs of progress which should mean the London Thames Gateway will emerge strongly post-recession. There are more degree educated residents (+72,000 since 2005) and a decline in the number and proportions of residents with low skills. Even more encouragingly, there are signs that the improvements in skills across the sub region will continue. GCSE results have shown significant improvements and participation in post-compulsory education and training has also increased. There are now more people going into higher education in our boroughs (+43% since 1999), with higher numbers of highly skilled residents entering the local labour market. We must ensure this progress is maintained, and match the improvements in the skills of our residents with equal progress in generating new employment opportunities.