‘There is a productivity gap [in the Liverpool city region]. Despite the recent growth in output, the level of economic inactivity contributes to a significant productivity gap in comparison with the national and other second-tier city regions in relation to population.’ From the report ‘State of Liverpool City Region: Making the most of Devolution’.
There is no doubt that the Liverpool city region has made great progress over the last two decades. Living here you feel like you are a player in a moment in time, a resident of an area that has fought to bury the demons of the past and that is looking forward and growing into a bright future.
However, despite the genuine progress and optimism there is still much work to be done. The State of Liverpool City Region report, a joint publication between the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, published in early 2016, describes a city region that has significant challenges in terms of jobs, productivity and health.
- Relatively high unemployment levels, especially for young people. Figures from Oct 2014- Sept 2015 show economic activity rates of 72.2% for LCR, lower than the national average of 77.7%
- High levels of long term sickness- over 145,000 residents are on out of work sickness benefits
- Productivity below the national average at £17,852 per head compared to England average of £21,860
When looking at these figures it’s easy to forget that it is real people that sit behind them, people who may be experiencing a variety of issues and challenges. Employment is a journey and individuals are at different stages depending on their personal circumstances, and as a city region we need to ensure that we design partnerships and deliver projects and programmes that have this at the heart.
‘Better collaboration would allow us to approach people as a whole,
rather than seeing an individual according to whatever issue they are presenting’
Local authorities, housing associations, blue light services, health bodies and social enterprises, all have shared aims and objectives and are probably targeting the same people. Better collaboration would allow us to approach people as a whole, rather than seeing an individual according to whatever issue they are presenting at that moment.
This then leads onto the question of measurement. We need to get more sophisticated about how we measure people’s progress. At the minute we concentrate on the absolute – how many jobs? How many qualifications? This doesn’t acknowledge the journey that an individual may have been on. The job is the iceberg poking through the ocean’s surface, but there’s a lot that has gone on underwater – confidence building, feeling happier, feeling more in control of their life. Measurement needs to reflect this.
Austerity presents another challenge and true partnership working and collaboration is fundamental to working within an environment of reduced funding. Initiatives such as the apprenticeship levy and the devolution of the adult skills budget present fantastic opportunities – what if public sector bodies pooled their apprenticeship levy to work in partnership with SMEs and social enterprises to provide apprenticeships in key growth areas of the economy? The levy pays for the training and the business pays the salary.
At the other end of the scale, what can we do to support individuals who are at the start of their journey? There are some great examples of this, embedding mental health support in employability, using confidence building and volunteering to support people to build self-esteem and take soft steps into the world of work.
Projects such as Give Get Go, delivered by Transform Lives Company are a great example. The project helps unemployed Liverpool residents into employment through offering training, coaching, support and volunteering. Partnerships have been created with a number of key civic institutions and employers who have committed to supporting volunteer placements and employability support which includes mock interviews, career talks and site visits. If a job arises they will also guarantee an interview to Give Get Go participants.
Going forward we know that tackling the productivity gap will be a challenge, we have much to build on in the Liverpool city region, but there is also much to do. With the area’s track record of creativity, innovation and determination, this is a challenge that I have no doubt that we will rise to!
Toria Buzza is regeneration manager at Plus Dane Housing and non-executive director at We Make Places CIC, which is writing, living and delivering a manifesto for change across the built environment.