Boost UK prosperity through skills powers for councils, says Localis

13 Nov 17

Local authorities must be given powers to combat skills shortages that threaten the country’s prosperity amid threats from Brexit and automation.

This is the message from the think-tank Localis in its report titled In Place of Work – Influencing Local Labour Markets.

The study estimated that just under half of England’s local labour markets have an above-average level of jobs risk because of a post-Brexit migration squeeze, around half have an above average risk due to the increased automation of jobs and just over half have an above-average risk arising from a low skills base.

The analysis revealed that the bulk of public, private and foreign investment is channelled into a “golden triangle” between London, Oxford and Cambridge.

Rural county areas accounted for nine out of 10 locations most at risk from the “toxic cocktail” of future threats to local labour markets; however, there was no north-south divide.

Report sponsors the County Councils Network (CCN), which represents 37 county councils in England, argued the report made a clear case for devolving powers to its members so they could devise local labour strategies.

The report indicated greater differences within the regions, with labour markets of the South East, in places such as Kent and Essex, needing as much support as certain parts of the North East.

Localis researcher Joe Fyans said: “While national government can and should set the policy framework for reshaping the country’s labour market to meet future economic needs, local areas must be empowered to respond to their different circumstances.

“The government must empower England’s strategic authorities to positively influence their local labour markets.”

The think-tank wants to see councils gain powers to boost apprenticeships and further education so they can coordinate the needs of local enterprise and the local population.

Localis has stressed the beneficial role this could play in helping people with disabilities achieve sustained employment and in preventing people aged over 50 from leaving the jobs market prematurely.

Localis chief executive Liam Booth-Smith said: “As the country slowly gets to grips with the broader implications, both positive and negative, of Brexit, it strikes us that the biggest  threat to our future prosperity won’t come from Brussels but from our own people.

“Simply put, our population is too low skilled for the high-paying industries we are developing.”

CCN chair Paul Carter said counties had been “hamstrung” by a one-size-fits all skills approach, and he urged the government to “unleash” the potential of rural arrears by creating strategic authorities, led by the county authority.

Carter said: “County authorities have the ambition, size and expertise to engineer real change in their local skills market, but are shackled by a lack of powers.

“Let’s embrace the art of the possible – this new approach would be good for business and good for residents.”

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