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For this to work nationally, counties must have a key role

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One of the biggest challenges facing councils is ensuring all parts of the community feel part of the recovery.

Without strong local, strategic leadership we risk leaving pockets of poverty, prolonging a period of stubbornly high youth unemployment and an absence of pathways into secure long-term employment for the most disadvantaged. 

The current criticisms of the national Work Programme suggest that it is counties, with their strategic economic role, that have the best chance of overcoming the toxic mixture of circumstances that can embed long-term unemployment into an area’s economy. 

When the public accounts committee revealed last year that only 3.6% of participants had secured employment during the first 14 months of its operation, many pointed to the disconnect between the monolithic nature of the Work Programme and ambitious local plans to generate new jobs through growth. A channel to a new job is only valid if that job exists.  

Counties have a strong track record of marrying training and skills programmes to the future economic priorities of their communities. 

For example, Northamptonshire’s 10 Point Plan for Growth is partly centred on strengthening links between local businesses and educational institutions, reinforcing pathways such as technical apprenticeships that allow young people to gain their first step into a fulfilling career.

The Work Programme’s challenges have shown that strong local relationships can be vital in linking employers with those seeking work. 

Working collaboratively with employers locating to the ambitious new business park Markham Vale, Derbyshire CC provided an array of free support services to ensure their workforce needs were met by local people. These services supported more than 150 unemployed people into a range of jobs generated by employers attracted by the new site.

When employment services are aligned with job creation initiatives, there is no reason why every community cannot feel part of the UK’s recovery.

The government needs to ensure the Work Programme reflects local economic needs, and current messages are mixed.

County exclusion from the youth contract negotiations is just one sign that unemployment in our communities is not receiving the focus it deserves.

By devolving funding and control to county level, the government would acknowledge the fundamental link between placing skilled people in secure long-term employment and delivering ambitious local visions for what county economies can achieve. For the Work Programme to work nationally, counties must have a key role. They are big enough to be strategic, but also local enough to understand the local labour market and economy, and able to develop innovative solutions which are appropriately tailored and targeted.

Jim Harker (Con), leader, Northamptonshire CC, and County Councils Network spokesman on driving growth

Joan Dixon (Lab), cabinet member for jobs, economy and transport, Derbyshire CC, and County Councils Network spokeswoman for jobs and skills

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