Brace, brace, brace! The global health crisis is rapidly deteriorating into a massive economic crisis. We learned this week that 600,000 jobs in the UK were cut between March and May. The Universal Claimant count in Bristol has increased by 46% since March, for young people by 81%, for people over 50 by 71%. Whilst the furlough scheme has given many employers breathing space, many experts see this as masking a significant problem ahead. As we move towards autumn, Britain could be heading back towards the unemployment rates seen in the first half of the 1980s, with all the misery that involves. A University of Essex study predicts that the lockdown could cost us 6.5 million jobs, with many people facing unemployment, lower pay, less hours – very tough times indeed.
Working in local government, with an employment and skills remit, we are so lucky to be linked closely with sector think tanks and local government support agencies across the world, in the UK and locally too. This week, I’ve taken part in some timely zoom workshops and discussions – through the Eurocities Employment Working Group, the Core Cities Skills Network, the Learning and Work Institute and the West of England Training Provider Network. I also attended one of the fortnightly WECA Skills Officer meetings involving counterparts from neighbouring local authorities.
So what are different places doing or planning to support their residents and help their economy? Toulouse are setting up a digital employment hub with tools for skills analysis, job matching and self-guided learning. Amsterdam is creating a youth employment scheme with intensive hands on support with guidance into employment, training and apprenticeships. Belfast are setting up employment academies with virtual sector-specific job fairs and upskilling opportunities. North Somerset Council (a bit nearer to home) are setting up a digital devise scheme, supported through safe 1-to-1 support in local libraries and blended community learning digital skills courses.
In anticipation of emergency budget announcements, Bristol ESL leaders are working at pace together and with partners to develop some strong ‘oven ready’ ideas. We are focusing on interventions that can be implemented quickly to support young people and adults in our most deprived communities that are being hardest hit by the loss of education, training and employment.
WECA, the DWP and our partners are looking to Bristol City Council for direction and support. It is great that Bristol has an established ESL team with the technical expertise and great connections with employers, providers and community organisations. We have a strong track record of doing the right things, and doing them well. We have tried and tested models that can be built on to help support residents facing the greatest risks and challenges, whilst also supporting the wider education, skills and employment system too.
Through the next few weeks, we have opportunities to feed our ideas into DWP, WECA, and Bristol’s Economic Recovery Task and Finish Group. As proposals come together, we will be sharing these across the team for wider discussion and input. We know we need to hear multiple bright ideas and perspectives to get this right. Whatever happens next, what is certain, everyone in ESL will have a critical role to play. As we draw to the end of another week in lock down, a very soggy one too, I’d like to say a huge ‘THANK YOU’ for your amazing contributions to the team, for your continued positive support of your colleagues, and for doing such a great job in these strangest of times. We will get through this – together.
Have a lovely weekend,
Jane Taylor, Head of Employment, Skills and Learning