Sluggish jobs growth ‘triggered West Midlands Brexit vote’

12 Dec 16

The West Midlands has been dubbed Britain’s Brexit capital by a think-tank that said the region’s poor record on job creation fuelled its Leave vote.

In a report issued today, the Resolution Foundation highlighted decades-long underperformance on employment and called on ministers to re-engineer the “Midlands Engine” devolution project to make the region “jobs-fit”.

Conor D'Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The West Midlands’ terrible record on job creation has created a huge employment blackspot and was a key factor behind its overwhelming vote to leave the EU.

“Turning the city region's economic prospects around will be a huge task facing the new mayor, and they should have the full backing of central government too. Whitehall should recalibrate its flagship Midlands Engine project to supporting the new mayor in overseeing a long overdue jobs boom across the West Midlands.”

The report notes that, despite robust jobs growth throughout the rest of the country, employment prospects in the West Midlands have improved only very slowly since 2011.

Ahead of the downturn, the employment rate was the lowest of any city region at just 66.3%.

Weak employment is a common problem across the city region, with only Solihull recording an employment rate higher that the average at 72.7%. Birmingham is the worst performing local authority with employment down at 60.9% followed by Walsall at 65.1%.

Young people, black and minority ethnic groups and low-skilled people find it particularly difficult to find work, the Resolution Foundation said.

“A jobs-rich recovery would also ensure that the whole region benefits from rising living standards. Its strong record on getting young people into university shows that there is plenty of potential for the new mayor to harness,” D’Arcy said.

“For years the West Midlands has been ignored as previous governments have focused on making London the financial capital of the world and Manchester a Northern Powerhouse. It’s high time Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country are brought out of the shadows and made the focus of a national renaissance for Britain's major cities.”

Specially, the report recommends the region diversify its jobs base into sectors such as insurance and financial services. And, given the large number of students in the region, graduates should be encouraged to stay in the area with growth in knowledge-based jobs.

Support should also be offered to disadvantaged groups through investment in back-to-work programmes and outreach to BAME communities.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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