I was pleased to see in Ed Miliband’s speech last week the announcement that Labour would devolve the spending on back-to-work schemes to local councils. This is something London Councils, which represents the capital’s boroughs, has long been arguing for and we will be looking closely at the next release of work programme data on 27 June to see if it stacks up with the high rates of success shown by councils.
The evidence is clear that employment programmes led from the centre will inevitably struggle to connect with local labour market conditions. You only need to look at the performance of the work programme, which only achieved four per cent success rate – compared with up to 26 per cent in council-led schemes – to see we need a different approach to employment support.
In London, close to £78m in employment support is commissioned nationally through at least seven different programmes. This means around up to £8 of every £10 spent on employment support in London is designed and delivered through national guidelines. Some national programmes are not delivering value for money.
Getting London Working, London Councils’ recent report, found that councils could deliver better value for money. We have the local knowledge, connections with employers and the ability to deliver more successful programmes, especially for those furthest from the labour market by joining up employment support with services to support people in work – eg with childcare. This is particularly important in London, with its vast and varied economy.
In my own borough of Southwark, through section 106 agreements we ensure all major developments deliver employment and skills training for local people. Each developer is obliged to appoint a workplace coordinator, tasked with ensuring that everyone in the construction chain, including subcontractors, commits to finding the right jobs for local people.
Workplace coordinators work closely with the council, Jobcentre Plus and local colleges to identify suitable vacancies and fill them. Often these opportunities allow those with limited experience or qualifications to come in at entry level and get trained on the job.
Our priority is to get local people into work and keep them there for a minimum of six months. The results speak for themselves: in 2012-13, 133 local people obtained and stayed in a construction role for at least six months. This is just one of many projects that contributed to Southwark increasing the number of local people in employment by 7,400, or 5.3 per cent, last year.
It is not just in Southwark: all across London, councils are already working hard to help local people find work. They are finding innovative ways to fund and deliver these services. Councils could and want to do more.
Designing schemes locally not only allows the best chance of encouraging providers suited to the local labour market, but it would also ensure alignment and integration with other initiatives such as the troubled families programme and the locally delivered support framework of the universal credit.
If councils commission back-to-work schemes we can better meet the needs of business and the unemployed.
Peter John is the leader of Southwark council and London Councils’ executive member for education, employment and skills. He tweets @PeterJohn6
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.