Government urged to give regions greater power over skills and employment or risk ‘levelling down’ the chances of millions

New report warns top down approach to recovery puts UK economy at risk and calls for increased devolution to address challenges that lie ahead

02 November 2020

The Government must give UK regional economies greater autonomy over skills and employment to develop grassroot recovery strategies – or risk levelling down the chances of millions, according to a new report published today by City & Guilds.

Taking insight gathered from political and business leaders across six regions in England, the Act Now report uncovers the impact that Covid-19 has had on regional economies across the nation and highlights the challenges that each of these labour markets faces, including unemployment, skills shortages, retracting industry sectors, the rise of Artificial Intelligence and growing skills gaps.

The report highlights that increased devolution is the only way to coherently address the differing priorities and challenges being faced across these regions.

Together with Mayoral Combined Authorities and businesses, City & Guilds has compiled a series of solutions to help bolster individual city regions, these include:

  1. More autonomy over skills funding to deal with local skills and employment challenges - Government must devolve more skills funding to the regions to Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). They would ultimately be the ones responsible for administering the funding in a more targeted and effective way specific to the business profile in their region
  2. Taking learning to the people - being more flexible about where people learn, be it digitally or in locations which are more practical and accessible
  3. Creation of employment and training hubs in areas of high unemployment - a one-stop skills and jobs matching service for adults seeking employment, or for those in employment who might need to or want to upskill or retrain
  4. Opening up funding to include any type of skills-based learning that leads towards a job – a more effective reallocation of Government funding to ensure more adults have access to Adult Training Allowance Loans to meet employer and labour market demand

The new findings suggest that as the nation looks towards recovery, each region is vulnerable to even higher levels of unemployment caused by factors such as AI disruption and skills gaps. 12.4% of the UK’s workforce are employed in occupations that are at high risk of automation and the North East is particularly vulnerable, with 50% or more of its tasks categorised as ‘highly automatable’.

In addition, the nationwide skills deficit continues to fuel concern across regional economies with under half (40%) of the UK’s population having achieved a Level 4 and above qualification (that is, having achieved any qualification above A-level) and almost one in ten (9.5%) having no formal educational qualifications at all.

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO of City & Guilds said:

“We spent the summer talking to local Governments and employers across the UK to understand what they need to help the unemployed back into work after the hammer blow of Covid19. The message that came back loud and clear was we can’t apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach if we want to successfully support people back into jobs. The challenges and solutions were often different in each area and Mayoral teams felt that they were not always enabled to act quickly and effectively enough with local solutions.  

“In addition, much of the announced Government skills support is simply happening too late, we need urgent action and the immediate release of earmarked skills funding to help people retrain and reskill into new jobs.

“As we look to building a much needed post covid recovery, we need to champion locally led solutions via a national network of Employment and Training Hubs. These localised and digitally enabled hubs would provide a ‘Shop Window for Skills’, making employment pathways more visible and accessible, and ultimately provide a platform which brings together local jobseekers, employers and training opportunities”.  

The Act Now report was compiled following a series of in-depth roundtable discussions with a cross-section of Metropolitan Mayors and LEPs, regional business leaders and educators. The qualitative data was then analysed and cross-referenced against economic forecasting and analysis data from economists at EMSI.

Read the full report