By Heather Cameron
The Local Government Association (LGA) last week called for greater devolution of employment and skills funding to councils and a ‘radical rethink’ of the way Jobcentre Plus works. Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board said:
“Job centres need to engage with more unemployed people for a start and then help more claimants move into sustainable employment. This is crucial to boosting local growth. Councils know best how to do this. We know our local economies, we know our local employers and we know our residents and we can bring local services together in a way central government will never be able to.”
Of course, local solutions for job creation and economic growth is not a new idea. Local development and job creation initiatives first emerged in the 1980s, in response to a ‘new phenomenon of high, persistent and concentrated unemployment’ that national policies seemed powerless to reverse on their own. Since then they have continued to spread and develop.
Although unemployment is at an 11-year low in the UK, according to recent research many countries, including the UK, are seeing widening gaps in the geographic distribution of skills and jobs. And the importance of local solutions has again been highlighted.
The OECD’s most recent edition of Job Creation and Local Economic Development argues that local development is a key tool for addressing the problem of such unequal distribution. Similarly, in its submission to last year’s Autumn Statement, the LGA argued that local government is central to the delivery of locally tailored solutions to national public policy challenges.
Boosting productivity growth, while ensuring growth delivers improved living standards and distributes the benefits of increased prosperity equally, are highlighted by the OECD as the twin challenges facing all policymakers. Underlined as a crucial but difficult task, it is argued that ‘actions originating at any single governance level or policy area will not be sufficient’.
The OECD report, therefore, examines how national and local actors can better work together to support economic development and job creation at the local level. In particular, it outlines what both national and local actors can do to improve the local implementation of vocational education and training (VET) and SME and entrepreneurship policies.
Among the recommendations for national actors include:
- Design VET frameworks that allow local stakeholders to tailor training to local labour market needs while still maintaining a certain level of national consistency
- Build the capacities needed to make VET systems more agile locally
- Develop a strong national apprenticeship framework that builds a high quality system, includes strategically-designed incentives for employer participation, and allows for flexible delivery frameworks
- Maximise the efficiency of SME and entrepreneurship policy delivery by allowing for local tailoring, co-locating services, using intermediary organisations to deliver programmes, and/or developing formal agreements for the division of competences and financing between governance levels
- Develop national frameworks and strategies to support disadvantaged young people in entrepreneurship, and clearly assign responsibility for this policy portfolio to a single agency or ministry
- Embed entrepreneurship into national education frameworks, while also providing integrated packages of entrepreneurship support in other settings to reach young people outside of the education system
Among the recommendations for local actors include:
- Balance the need to meet pressing local labour market demands with ensuring that VET helps to move local economies to higher skilled and value-added products and services
- Encourage VET teachers and trainers to maintain contact with local employers and industries to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date
- Boost employer engagement in apprenticeships
- Tailor the delivery of apprenticeship programmes so that they work better for a broader range of employers, including SMEs, and disadvantaged populations
- Forge connections across administrative borders in developing and co-ordinating entrepreneurship and SME policies
- Work with organisations that have already established relationships with disadvantaged youth to maximise the reach of entrepreneurship programmes
- To better reach disadvantaged youth, provide integrated packages of support, use hands-on learning methods, and involve entrepreneurs in programme delivery
The report concludes that local actors need both flexibility to tailor delivery of national policies to local conditions and the capacity to use this flexibility to ensure informed decision-making.
It is noted that this doesn’t necessarily mean political decentralisation, but rather ensuring the right tools are used to add local flexibility while maintaining national coherence.
If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read our previous blog on Local Enterprise Partnerships.
Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.