County councils have criticised the government’s “continuing obsession with cities” after it said only the eight core city authorities could bid to run aspects of the youth contract.
The County Councils Network said the exclusion of all other authorities ignored the problems presented by rural unemployment and the needs of young people in towns and countryside.
CCN chairman Rob Gordon (Con) said: “This announcement is an expression of central government’s continuing obsession with cities, that already enjoy unprecedented economic freedoms compared to their neighbouring areas.
“By ignoring counties, the government risks ignoring the acute pressure of rural unemployment and the fact that, when London is excluded, it is county economies that are responsible for half of the UK’s GVA.”
He added: “Excluding counties from the extension of the youth contract scheme risks undermining the project’s viability and could force even more young people into cities to find work.” It also “completely ignores the needs of young people in our towns and countryside”, he said.
Earlier this week, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced that the eight core city local authorities - in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield - would be able to bid for a share of £50m to help young people into work via Mr Clegg’s nationwide ‘youth contract’ programme.
The eight have been told to submit bids over the summer indicating how they will target young unemployed people and help them into local businesses. Firms will be paid a £2,275 ‘wage incentive’ for each young person they take on.
A spokesman for the deputy prime minister said the focus on the right cities was in order to pilot a new of delivering Mr Clegg’s programme and he denied the government was ignoring rural unemployment.
“The wage incentive is a national scheme and is there right now for all businesses and young people to take advantage of across the country - all county councils, counties, cities, towns and businesses to find out more and take up our offer of £2,275 for taking on young unemployed people,” he said.
“We’re looking for innovative ways to increase uptake of the wage incentive, with the sole aim of getting young people into jobs that last. The £50m pot we announced is initially for the eight core cities to bid for because we want to boost the uptake and pilot new approaches.”
The spokesman said that every local area was able to access money through the single local growth fund to help local young people back into work or training. Although this fund will not be created until 2015-16 the spokesman said growth plans and fund bids were to be drawn up “in the coming months”.
Mr Clegg announcement comes after cities minister Greg Clark (Con) had met with the eight leaders of the core cities and, as exclusively reported by LGC in May, heard their frustrations about the success rates of national employment programmes.