Sharing London's prosperity - conference speech, 22 September

How do we share the buoyancy of London's economic growth with all Londoners, not just those in the square mile?

There is a construction boom in London and the South East, due to a growing economy and a pent up demand in the housing sector across all housing tenures. As well as that, there is a constant need for maintenance of buildings and homes in our public housing.

Across London there are thousands of construction vacancies. More construction workers are needed and we need to act now to address the skills gap, which is predicted to grow in the coming decade.

FE colleges, local authorities and industry can all play a crucial role in planning for and implementing effective schemes to encourage more local people into construction. Let me give you one example of just such a good local scheme.

During my period as Leader of Islington Council, Islington grouped together with a local painting and decorating firm to design a scheme to assist local people into construction. The council provided the building and some of the young people, the others came through the Job Centre or directly from schools. Our local FE college provided advice on NVQ level and basics in English and Maths. The contractor, KM McLoughlins provided the industry focus and 'know how' as well as crucial mentoring support for first timers.

Over 75% of youngsters coming through the scheme-that is through traineeships, apprenticeships and other booster courses have subsequently found a paid job. By the end of the basic pre-apprenticeship course, the young people know what kind of jobs there are in construction and have usually had a taste of on-site work. We know that there is a plethora of opportunity in construction-through design work, security, catering, business support as well as the more traditional 'hard hat' roles. That is what we seek to show to the young people-that there is an interesting paid career awaiting them.

A further crucial step we took in Islington was to begin to weave the scheme into our procurement. Each year the average inner London authority has a billion pound turnover.

On capital spend, a large chunk of spend is tied up in estate maintenance and new build council homes. By requiring companies to have a training element in every contract over 500k, those companies are adding value to the local economy.

It is only by genuinely engaging with industry such as KM McLoughlins in the case of Islington, that we can provide the exposure to day to day construction for the people we serve, therby giving them an opportunity to be a part of the vibrant economy, to be a part of it on their own terms.

There is no reason why this concept could not be upscaled, so that across the UK construction firms that are applying for public sector work are required to take on young people and work closely with colleges and local authorities. This model could also be used for other industries, using billions of pounds of public spending to more effectively support local economies and provide the training and apprenticeships we need.

 

 

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