(i) Report of the Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth.
(ii) Presentation by the Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth.
The Chair welcomed the Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth, Amy Harhoff who was in attendance to provide the Committee with a presentation on the Strategic Job Creation Plan (for copy see file of minutes).
The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth introduced the Operations Director, Sarah Slaven and the Economic Development Manager, Graham Wood who were in attendance to provide information in relation to their areas of work. The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth asked the Committee to note that the item was one of two related items, the Strategic Job Creation Plan linking to the Strategic Employment Sites in County Durham. She reminded Members of the theme in terms of the response to Brexit and the pandemic, as well as in terms of responding to pre-existing issues.
The Committee were asked to note the economic strategy landscape noting the key role of the Local Authority in terms of driving jobs and growth, with the Corporate Director explaining that the Council was not the only actor and that there was a role for central Government, businesses and partners. Members were asked to note the work that underpinned and supported the work of the teams within the Council, including the: Regeneration Statement; Business and Enterprise Framework; Skills Strategy; County Durham Vision; and County Durham Plan. The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth noted there was the new County Durham Economic Strategy, which would replace the Regeneration Statement, Business and Enterprise Framework and the Skills Strategy to be considered by Cabinet later in the year. Members were reminded that the County Durham economy was the largest in the North East, around £9 billion in productivity per annum, and were asked to note challenges including the gap in productivity when compared to where the County would be if performing at the national average. It was explained there were areas where the Council would work regionally with other Local Authorities and partners, where areas of economic strategy were cross-boundary. The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth noted the critical importance of Central Government in terms of planning and funds and investment programmes.
The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth reminded Members of the functions within the Regeneration, Economy and Growth Directorate, including: Transport and Contract Services; Communications and Marketing; Corporate Land and Property; Development and Housing; Culture, Sport and Tourism; and Business Durham.
She stressed that the Directorate was part of the wider Local Authority and worked with other areas such as Children and Young People’s Services in order to provide the best opportunities for young people and with Neighbourhoods and Climate Change in respect of the environmental economy. Members were asked to note the work in supporting the private sector to drive growth, create enterprise, innovation and opportunity, through support to social and economic infrastructures.
The Committee were referred to slides setting out the long-term labour market issues, setting out statistics relating to employment, unemployment, economic activity and long-term illness for County Durham and the average for England in 2020. Members noted employment was 71 percent in County Durham, lower than 76 percent for England, and the unemployment rate was six percent for County Durham and five percent for England. It was added that the high rate of economic inactivity, 23 percent, compared to the England average, 21 percent, was linked to long term illness and the potential labour market in the County.
The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth noted that the County had a higher proportion of those employed in lower skilled occupations, such as leisure, and added that leisure and hospitality was an area valued in the County’s economy in terms of driving growth. She explained that it was important to be able to ensure there were high level jobs and career paths within those areas. It was noted a challenge was the lower proportion of financial, insurance and business sector jobs within the County Durham economy when compared nationally and explained that therefore in terms of strategic sites it was important to be able to attract those types of businesses to the area. The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth explained another challenge was the gap in term of those within the County working in high skilled jobs, with the issue of skills being linked to being able to attract or retain those jobs in the County.
The Economic Development Manager referred Members to issues seen through employment support programmes, adding those jobs listed were frequently cited in the news and were not just an issue for County Durham. He added they were areas of growth and demand, with the Council working to align employment and skills opportunities to be able to direct people into those occupations. He explained that, even pre-pandemic, there were opportunities in respect of logistics, due to the County’s road and rail network, and with continued pressure for delivery drivers, fork-lift truck operators. He added that, with an aging population and a health deficit across County Durham, health and social care were also areas with a high demand and noted Members would be aware of the Care Academy proposals that had been put in place to direct more people into that sector. Councillors were asked to note other areas included the education sector and also the ICT professional sector, the latter being an area where there was a gap in terms of the North East compared to the rest of the country. Members were asked to note the shift in 2016 in terms of replacement demand in companies, and while the County had been strong historically in terms of apprenticeships, there were changes in funding that the Council was working through.
The Economic Development Manager noted that elements included not only training to allow people to access the labour market, but also upskilling to allow access to higher level opportunities. He explained that a lot of that work was made possible by European funding and Local Authorities were awaiting information from Government as regards the details of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF) to be able to design and implement solutions in the future.
The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth referred Members to information relating to educational attainment and noted while Primary School performance in the County was either good or outstanding higher level skills were a challenge, noting gaps in A-Level and degree-level qualifications in the County compared to the England level. She reminded Councillors of the strategic role the Council played in driving the economy and explained as regards its duty in creating vibrant and attractive places. She reiterated the work with a number of partnerships, including the County Durham Economic Partnership (CDEP), and added that private sector engagement was also a key area, noting that both the Visit County Durham (VCD) and Business Durham Boards having representation from the private sector to help inform and shape activity, helping ensure they were both in touch with the market itself.
The Committee noted the work of the Local Authority in terms of significant job growth since 2009, 10,500 jobs, and were reminded of the strategic investments that had been made to help secure jobs, such as NETPark and Integra 61. The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth explained that logistics and advanced manufacturing accounted for 16 percent of the County Durham economy and noted that the leisure and hospitality industries were also important areas for the County. She noted that the North East was a challenging market to develop, however, the Local Authority was able to support the ‘economic infrastructure’ through work to create access roads to release sites for development and also in helping to attract Central Government and regional funding, acting as delivery agency for those investments. Members noted examples being the future phases of NETPark, with investment in road infrastructure having been key to unlocking the further phases of investment. The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth noted the capacity and expertise of the Council in being able to secure funding and in many cases deliver schemes in order to attract businesses. She explained as regards the role of the Council in terms of property investment and development, acting as a lever to allow the private sector to occupy the buildings to create jobs and growth. She added there were business support functions that the Council carried out, in terms of networking and sector support.
The Economic Development Manager noted the reliance on European funding in terms of the breadth of the offer in terms of skills development and explained as the core offer over the last 18 months, with the immediate response to the pandemic and redundancy response being important, in terms of reskilling and reequipping people in order for them to engage with new opportunities in the labour market.
He added as regards the march of digitisation, noting it was not only in terms of manufacturing but also in areas such as retail and hospitality. He noted the work in terms of not only developing basic digital skills, but also more technical applications supporting businesses as they repositioned themselves in terms of how they deliver their services.
The Economic Development Manager explained the Council provided a number of brokerage services in terms of apprenticeships, helping to make sure the complex arrangements for identifying which most appropriate framework could be navigated. He added that the Council would provide both support for a business and the person moving into an apprenticeship. He noted that redundancy support was an area the Council had to maintain and also had fed into the countywide rapid response service that operated with the National Careers Service (NCS) and Job Centre Plus (JCP), with the intention always to support a company and to try and retain as many jobs initially, then looking to match the skills of those at risk of redundancy with labour market opportunities. He explained the role, working alongside Business Durham, in respect of identifying companies that are in a growth position and to match people within programmes with those new opportunities, and to put in place a skills improvement programme if required to help move local people into the jobs that are created.
The Economic Development Manager referred the Committee to slides highlighting the use of European funding and also the timing issues in terms of programmes. He noted the programmes delivered by Regeneration, Economy and Growth and Children and Young People’s Services supporting skills development and helping to progress people into employment. He explained a number of the programmes were destined to end in 2023 and reiterated the importance of the UKSPF and the recent Community Renewal Fund in terms of understanding how Government would be approaching the provision of support in that area. He noted there was a number of partners in terms of delivery of programmes, including the four Further Education colleges in the County, independent training providers, as well as nationally procured delivery agencies such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in addition to more specialist providers. The Economic Development Manager noted it was important to note the work undertaken in getting people ready for new labour markets as well as preparing an effective infrastructure post-2023.
Councillors were reminded of the DurhamWorks programme, supported by European funding, which aimed to help 10,000 young people aged 16-24 across the County into employment. The Economic Development Manager noted that the programme was similar to other programme as in it was based around a single point of contact for the client, with an individual action plan being developed to ensure the solution fits the young person, rather than simply putting people through volume programmes. He explained that it appeared to be providing a great deal of benefit, with the ongoing evaluation identifying some extremely positive case studies, both from the individuals point of view and also with very positive feedback from businesses.
The Economic Development Manager noted that while DurhamWorks focussed on young people up to 24, for those over 25 years of age there was a range of programme under ‘Employability Durham’ that included four core programmes funded by European funding, each with a specific focus, included a geographic focus, adults with health conditions and those with multiple barriers in terms of moving forward into employment. He added that the Council was supporting around 2,200 people through those programmes, with around 500 actively job seeking at any one time, and development work being undertaken with the remainder. He noted that a broad range of people accessed the programmes, with around 330 of the 2,200 having Level 4 qualifications or above, adding that there was a focus on those with long-term health conditions to help get them ready for the labour market. The Economic Development Manager noted that one of the main ways into employment for those people was via employment routeways, and noted a recent example with Amazon, one of the largest inward investments in recent years. He noted that of the initial 1,000 jobs, 342 secured interviews through the employment routeway and with 92 percent attendance on the routeway, with 87 percent being offered jobs. He explained that the Council was able to switch from providing general support to very focussed support for a particular routeway, both to employers and individuals in preparing them for opportunities as they presented themselves. He added the Council continued to support Amazon in terms of recruitment in respect of turnover and season peaks. The Economic Development Manager noted that routeway model was delivered for a wide range of employers alongside enabling sites and providing infrastructure.
The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth noted key opportunities and challenges including the large geographical size of the County, being the eight largest Local Authority by area in the country, with a large employment and labour market. She added that the key was in creating the locations and conditions to locate in the County and provide the workforce to sustain businesses and attract new businesses. She concluded by noting the role of multiple agencies and partners working alongside the Council in operating in a complicated landscape, noting the need to succeed for residents and local communities.
The Chair thanked the Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth and asked Members of the Committee for their comments and questions.
Councillor A Batey noted her involvement with the Committee over the last 8 years and noted, when looking at fundamental issues, that transport was a key issue. She added she felt people in rural areas were being failed, as well as young people, citing a recent issue where 120 pupils had been unable to get to school as rural transport had been removed, with parents unable to get to work as they then had to take their children to school.
She reiterated she felt those in rural areas were not being supported and noted previous work of the Committee in terms of the ‘Wheels 2 Work’ scheme and noted children with free school bus passes for distance over 2 or 3 miles. She asked what the Council was doing in terms of its responsibilities in respect of education and employment.
Councillor A Surtees noted she agreed with Councillor A Batey in relation to the points raised regarding transport. She noted the recent changes in the labour market and noted that with issues including poverty and welfare reform, noting that the uplift of £20 in respect of Universal Credit had helped to enabled residents to be in a position to get a job, only for issues where transport was removed preventing them being able to get to work, and with the £20 uplift to be removed. She referred to the removal of the Council’s Careers Service, ‘Connexions’ and noted the widening gap in young people’s attainment. She noted the need for more work to be done linking schools and businesses and referred to a review undertaken around 5-6 years ago in that regard. She added that in many cases young people did not have an understanding of basic employability skills. In reference to the Skills Strategy, she asked as regards work to encourage the uptake of disabled workers with skills, for example in helping employers with the cost of adaptions.
The Chair noted the issues raised and the requirement for education up to age 18 unless a young person was employed. Councillor A Surtees asked if there was any information from the Officers as regards the review mentioned relating to links between schools and employers.
The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and
Growth acknowledged the issues raised relating to school transport
and reiterated the importance of strategic transport, whether that
was infrastructure or services to enable labour
mobility. She reiterated that the
County was a large county, with large rural areas, and while the
Local Authority managed a lot of bus subsidies into bus services,
there was always a gap in terms of need and the overall
funding. She added it was important
that, as the Council moved forward and inputted into the National
Bus Strategy and funding, the Council was really ambitious and had
a good analysis to understand what services were
needed. She referred the issue of
Connexions to the Economic Development Manager and reiterated that
feedback was helpful in terms of developing the evidence base for
the Economic Strategy and the associated
Skills Strategy so that Officers understood residents and communities so that strategies, policies and investments through those strategies could be effectively targeted.
The Economic Development Manager noted the previous review work that looked at the improving progression agenda, including some of the issues around those not in education, employment and training (NEETs), and many of the points had been brought forward when bidding for European funding, with some wraparound programmes that operated alongside the DurhamWorks programme.
He noted the agenda in terms of helping young people progress was central within the Council’s Children and Young People’s Service and formed part of the long-term input into the employment and skills element of the Economic Strategy. He added that there had been a great deal of work undertaken with schools over the last couple of years, with schools now having the responsibility in terms of careers work at the local level. He added that the Council worked with both grant-maintained and independent schools and noted it was an area where the partnership working previously mentioned came into play, noting a great deal of time and investment made at the North East level by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) in respect of benchmarking gaps, a process to ensure that careers was lifted to a higher level and that higher level reflected the economy and business base in the area. He added it was not perfect, with more work to be done and reiterated that it had been identified as an area of work to be embedded within the employment and skills side of the emerging Strategy. In relation to disabled access, the Economic Development Manager confirmed there was a specific group within the Council that looked at that area, given the leadership role the Council had due to its disability standards, and the Authority looked at what it could do to ensure that people with disabilities were not disadvantaged in terms of seeking employment, not only with the Council, but also with partner organisations or any businesses that required that level of assistance in overcoming the adaptations to allow disabled residents to access employment opportunities.
Mrs R Morris noted the problems and issues raised were not new and noted that she had raised the issue of skills for several years, and this had been highlighted by the pandemic. She noted she was excited as regards a new Skills Strategy and asked how up-to-date it was, noting a previous strategy from 2018. She emphasised that it would be important for it to encompass the employment opportunities that were being discussed at the moment, asking how it would be reflected in the Skills Strategy and what the likely timescale was in terms of the new Strategy being in place. Mrs R Morris asked as regards how groups, such as business, education, voluntary and public sectors, were working together. So noted the report referred to six adult employability programmes and, with DurhamWorks making seven programmes, and asked whether those programmes were linked, if they were able to talk to each other and had an agreed agenda that they were all working to. She explained that DurhamWorks had promised a review back in Spring 2021 and noted she was not aware of the information relating to that review having been brought back to Members, adding that the figure of 10,000 young people being NEET was worrying. Mrs R Morris noted the general good performance of schools in the County and asked as to who is advising young people, where do they go to for advice.
She quoted a local young person who had expressed his wish to become an engineer to his teacher and had been told ‘you are too bright to be one’, adding that kind of comment worried her, given the focus on engineering within the County.
Mrs R Morris reiterated that she welcomed the new Skills Strategy being developed, however, given the importance of being able to use technology, she felt a separate IT Strategy was needed, noting it was ‘the new literacy’, and asked if there was one, and were there examples of local best practice. She concluded by noting that an economic and skills strategy was in effect an education strategy and noted that the way the partnership worked together to deliver the Economic and Skills strategies was as important as what it was actually going to do.
The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth noted the current Skills Strategy was ready to be refreshed and that was why it was highlighted within the presentation. She added that a lot within the current strategy was still relevant, operational and did not prevent the Council from looking at new programmes and activities. She highlighted that while the new Skills Strategy would be brought forward in parallel with the new Economic Strategy, it would not be left until the Economic Strategy was completed, and similar for other areas that might require specific work, such as transport as highlighted by Members of the Committee. She highlighted the voice of young people being heard within that Strategy was critical, whether that was working though the Durham Youth Council or with schools across the County to bring forward the stakeholder plan that sat alongside the Strategy.
The Economic Development Manager noted that in terms of partnerships, there were two main routes, one having been set out within the presentation in respect of the CDEP and through it’s Business, Enterprise and Skills Working Group, looking at the strategic agenda and emerging opportunities and how those were coordinated. He added that in terms of the detailed coordination the Council facilitated a ‘Provider Forum’ which included all the colleges, the main independent training providers and employment support providers. He added that met on a regular basis to look at programming issues, the flow of clients, emerging job opportunities and making sure that there were no gaps in provision, linking with employers for the benefit of residents. The Economic Development Manager explained that, in terms of the number of programmes in operation, the Council had responded to and had been successful in securing funding from a number of European procurements for different employment support programmes. He noted that when clients were referred or self-referred to the Authority then there would be a triage process and it would be identified which of the programmes was most appropriate. He noted that programmes were delivered through the same teams, with colleagues working alongside each other, with a focus on the needs of the individual and with the Council ‘hiding the wiring’ in terms of individual contracts, focussing on the outcomes for the clients.
Councillor MI Roberts noted he was new to the Committee and also a newly elected Councillor and apologised if there was an answer to his question within previous papers. He explained he worked within a section of Durham University and asked as regards the number of graduates retained in the County, noting many thousands had left the County after graduation.
He asked as regards what work was undertaken with Durham University in respect of graduate retention and noted that while many that attended were originally from elsewhere in the country, or indeed the world, many were from the County, region, and neighbouring areas such as North Yorkshire.
The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth noted there were two challenges in terms of graduate retention in the County, one being the gap in terms of university level education within the County and that the County ‘exported’ a large number of its students to other Russell Group universities outside of the County with many not returning to the County. She added that was in addition to the point raised in terms of retaining graduates from the Durham University, a world class institution, within the County. She noted the Council worked very closely with Durham University and explained there was a Memorandum of Understanding with the University in terms of a number of issues, including development and graduate retention. She added that she felt it was a key area to do better in and noted that graduates would stay if there were the jobs to go to, and similarly employers would come if there was the skilled workforce to attract those jobs. She noted it was an iterative process and it was key that the strategies, and the way the Council worked, homed in a little more in that respect. She noted developments, such as NETPark and the Aykley Heads site, would be key in terms of creating some of the higher end, high-tech jobs to help retain graduates. She explained that the County had the offer in terms of place, it was therefore having the offer of employment to go alongside that. Councillor MI Roberts asked if there was a specific strategy in terms of graduate retention, noting there was a huge opportunity in terms of attracting and retaining graduates in the County. The Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth explained there was a series of strategic and tactical actions, however, no specific document entitled ‘Graduate Retention Strategy’. She noted it may not be a strategy that sat on its own, however, it would be an integral part of the Economic Strategy.
Councillor A Sterling noted there was some frustration with Members looking for practical solutions to the issues raised, rather than additional talking. She highlighted the issues of transport, noting an example within her Electoral Division in terms of school transport, noting issues in terms of a school transport provision operated by a company outside of the County being withdrawn and there being no ‘Plan B’ in place. She explained she agreed with the comments made as regards university, in terms of encouraging young people to go and study, as well as being able to retain them within the County after graduation. She noted, in respect of careers advice, she was a tenant within a Business Durham property, and asked how the Council could be more practical in terms of reaching out to businesses locally utilising existing e-mail links. She noted a small jobs fair that had been held in conjunction with Derwentside College and asked if similar activities could take place in terms of careers information. She noted that schools and teachers were very busy and asked if it would be possible to offer them an easy solution in order to deliver such careers advice.
Councillor C Marshall noted he felt the next presentation would explain as regards a key part of the Council’s plan in terms of retaining talent within the County, that being the development of key economic sites in order to fulfil the ambition of more and better jobs. He added there was the impact of national policies on Local Authorities and emphasised that Government needed the right strategies and large enough financial envelope to be able to deliver in terms of infrastructure, transport, skills development and education. He noted the clear need to create an environment in County Durham where businesses would want to invest and create jobs, and the key role the Council would have in that, however, he emphasised that one could not underestimate the impact on schools funding, skills funding, welfare reform and the upcoming UKSPF and Community Renewal Fund. He added one could not underestimate the disadvantage the County had following 10 years of austerity making the challenge even greater. Councillor C Marshall explained that he believed that the County was in an excellent position to create an ecosystem where businesses would want to invest, however, it would be more difficult if the County did not get the support and if all would not come together, politics aside, in order to ensure all was being done across the political spectrum to influence Government nationally so that the decisions they took had a positive impact for County Durham and not a detrimental impact otherwise Members would be having the same conversation in another 15 years.
The Chair noted he felt that Members had indicated that they wanted more accountability, more action and less talking.
That the report and presentation be noted.