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Councils' social mobility role mooted

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Councils have a much wider role in ensuring people from all backgrounds have access to good jobs than simply reconfiguring local careers services, Northamptonshire CC chief executive Katherine Kerswell has insisted.

Ms Kerswell represented local government on Alan Milburn’s Panel on Fair Access to the Professions.

Its report recommended taking careers responsibility away from the Connexions service and replacing it with more localised advice.

While the report highlighted a decrease in social mobility between those born in the 1950s and 1970s, councils avoided the kind of criticism over elitism levelled at the legal profession and journalism.

But Ms Kerswell said councils needed to recognise the ways they could increase social mobility and help both residents and staff realise their full potential.

She said councils should throw their weight, both individually and collectively, behind proposals for a “fair access” charter mark to recognise and reward those professional bodies that did the most to broaden their intake across class barriers.

“As the biggest employer in many areas, we can set the standards,” she said. “If you look at the way access to the professions is not fair, you see that we have a strong influence and voice that we can bring to bear on professional bodies.”

She added that while Mr Milburn’s panel had flagged up the preponderance of privately educated entrants to the upper reaches of the legal professions, civil service, finance, and journalism, councils were good at providing career development help to staff.

Ms Kerswell also predicted a growing council interest in providing internships for people of all ages to experience different careers, and develop necessary social skills.

Unison reacted with anger to the panel’s insistence that it had “barely heard a good word about” Connexions’ careers advice, and the recommendation that the Government should instead channel £200m to schools and colleges for them to tender for their own services.

Head of higher education John Richards said Connexions was currently under-resourced and that devolving responsibility for careers advices would “only exacerbate this lottery”.

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