Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Helping jobless must be council priority during downturn

Helping jobless must be council priority during downturn

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (038) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 2 March 2009

Ministers today welcomed a new report setting out practical measures to support councils' efforts to boost employment in their areas.

In his report Cllr Stephen Houghton, Leader of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, calls for an increase in the number of council apprenticeships and 'work taster' programmes, streamlining and pooling of financial support from both local and central government, and immediate efforts by councils to assess how the downturn is affecting their areas, and to develop plans to tackle it.

The report is published as Local Government Minister John Healey and Employment Minister Tony McNulty immediately confirm their commitment to this work through extra funding, £3 million to kick start preparations for such changes and closer collaboration between central and local Government.

They will set up a new national forum, which will bring together Government departments, councils and other local organisations to support the implementation of Cllr Houghton's recommendations and to challenge Government where barriers exist to councils helping local unemployed people back into work.

Cllr Houghton's report recommends that every council should conduct an assessment of local unemployment by the middle of this year, evaluating claimant trends, and assessing the impact of the downturn on the most vulnerable groups in their local areas who may be disproportionately affected and need innovative forms of support.

John Healey and Tony McNulty will work with the Local Government Association, to consider all the recommendations carefully and respond in full alongside next month's Budget

Cllr Houghton's report argues that local government should provide 50,000 apprenticeship places by 2011, as well as 75,000 'work taster' places to unemployed people, providing on-the-job experience.

He proposes that a new Challenge Fund be established to boost local enterprise, provide extra support for employers and long-term benefits claimants to get real help in building up new skills for the future, and increase opportunities for temporary employment.

And he says the Government's £1 billion Working Neighbourhoods Fund should be allocated to councils on a five-year funding cycle - and remain unringfenced so councils can use it to tackle unemployment as they see best.

Cllr Stephen Houghton said:

"Worklessness is not a problem that can be solved in isolation - the causes and solutions vary from place to place and sector to sector.

"That is why Whitehall and councils must work together, laser-targeting their full resources and focus toward helping people at the local level.

"As council leader I know this works best - and that is why I want councils to make helping jobless people in their area a top priority as the downturn continues.

"Councils must urgently make an assessment of their local situation and plan how to help get people the right training and, working with Job Centre Plus, make sure they have as many opportunities as possible to get jobs quickly."

Local Government Minister John Healey said:

"In today's difficult economic circumstances, it is vital that all politicians, whether in Whitehall or the Town Hall, do all they can to help people to stay in their homes and in work.

"Cllr Houghton and his team have come up with innovative solutions, many of which we support and which can be implemented quickly and effectively.

"This economic downturn is hitting different parts of the country in different ways and to different degrees, and in this climate councils are best placed to know the difficulties their areas face, and how best to help. The work and skills plans that will be drawn up within the next few months will ensure that councils reach those that need support the most.

"And the £3million we are making available today to kick start preparations that will help give councils the support they need, so that the best solutions spread across the country."

Employment Minister Tony McNulty said:

"I fully endorse the central message of the report, that government centrally and locally need to work better to ensure that we survive during and thrive after the recession, and that we do everything possible to ensure that the most disadvantaged groups and localities are not put at the back of the queue.''

Notes to Editors:

1. Cllr Houghton's report, Tackling Worklessness: A Review of the contribution and role of local authorities and partnerships - Final Report is published today and can be found at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/tacklingworklessnessfinal

2. The report also recommends that:

* Councils should sign Local Employment Partnerships and all local authority vacancies be advertised in Jobcentre Plus.

* Councils should sign skills pledges and make more use of Train2Gain job training so staff with low qualifications can progress further up the career ladder. Local Government and Learning Skills Council to agree a compact on funding for Train2Gain by Oct 2009.

* A pre-apprenticeship programme for 'Young Public Servants' should be created with academic credit for a new Diploma in Public Service to be in schools by 2010-2012.

* Councils with deprived groups and neighbourhoods, especially WNF areas, should be required to develop detailed Work and Skills plans.

* Regional Development Agencies and Council leader boards should work up ways to provide credit to small businesses. Councils should increase their support for Community led financing for lending to businesses in priority areas.

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