The value of a claim that 100,000 new jobs will be created in the Greater Birmingham area over the next decade has been questioned by Labour councillors, who fear that an under-skilled local workforce is likely to miss out with most of the new posts being snapped up by outsiders.
Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby found himself having to defend his going-for-growth policy after it was confirmed that half of all students in the city leave school with no decent qualifications at all, and that the employee skills base in the West Midlands are among the worst anywhere in the country.
Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) told a scrutiny committee that the Government was “very excited” about the prospects for job creation in Birmingham.
The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership aims to use £70 million from rates paid by new businesses moving into the area to stimulate further regeneration and provide 100,000 new jobs over the next decade, he said.
Birmingham is the fastest growing UK location outside of London for foreign investment according to the Ernst and Young European Productivity Survey, Coun Whitby insisted, with the Chinese Government poised to plough more money into car production at Longbridge.
Recent announcements include 600 new jobs as the Solicitors Regulatory Authority moves to Birmingham, and 1,000 construction and retail jobs at the John Lewis store being built at New Street Station.
Deputy Labour group leader Ian Ward said that the growth strategy would be “useless” without a major initiative to target social exclusion and worklessness.
He pointed out that several inner city wards in Birmingham have had unemployment rates approaching 40 per cent for many years.
Coun Ward (Lab Ward End) added: “There has been a widening of the gap between the more affluent parts of the city and the poorest areas. Far too many people leave school without getting good GCSEs, so how are they going to get the jobs that are being created?”
Coun Steve Bedser (Lab Kings Norton) added: “My fear, as far as the Solicitors Regulatory Authority is concerned, is that a whole load of professional people will be coming into the city getting jobs and not even living in Birmingham. What percentage of these jobs will go to residents?
“The same for John Lewis. How many of the people getting these jobs will live within walking distance of the city centre and are not currently in employment?”
Coun Whitby accepted the criticism, adding that it was “up to our schools to accept the challenge” and push up GCSE results.
He added: “We are still under-performing when it comes to people who don’t have good qualifications in English and maths.
“The skills deficit is a major challenge to Birmingham and there is a stubborn high level of unemployment in seven of our wards, so we need to understand why this is the case. A hard core of people have remained out of work for far too long.
“People may be excluded unless we improve education standards dramatically, and that’s a challenge we have to face.”
Half of school leavers in Birmingham fail to get five GCSE A-C grades in mainstream subjects including English and maths.
Coun Whitby admitted that employers were sometimes forced to recruit better qualified staff from outside of the city.
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