By Cllr Andy Hull
Executive Member for Finance at Islington Council
Despite its many millionaires, Islington is actually the 14th most deprived local authority area in England. This is mainly because of the borough’s high level of unemployment, making it the place in the country with the highest proportion of kids growing up in workless households. We know that, as a council, we will struggle to solve any of the other problems we face in areas such as health, housing and community safety unless we can crack the issue of unemployment.
The one-size-fits-all national Work Programme has failed to get the long-term unemployed, disabled people and harder-to-help groups into work. In Islington alone, there are 1,365 people who have been claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) for more than a year (September 2014). We need a different, more local approach.
This is precisely what the Cooperative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN) has proposed in its recent report, Unlocking Our Wealth. In it, twenty-two local authorities across the UK, including ours, argue for a new, cooperative approach to jobs and employment, centred on three new cooperative deals. First, a new deal between local authorities and citizens, based on forging relationships with jobseekers as individuals. Second, a new deal between local authorities and businesses, based on genuine partnership and a more explicit quid pro quo. Third, a new deal between local authorities and government, based on what works and on trust.
The report demonstrates how a more local, cooperative approach can deliver real results, citing evidence of good practice ranging from tailored support to help people with complex needs into work in Edinburgh, to an enterprise hub in Stevenage driving small business growth, to Southampton Council brokering developer contributions towards local employment initiatives. The CCIN estimates that such approaches, enabled by greater devolution, could cut the cost of employment programmes by up to 25 per cent, saving £500m nationally.
Along with the other councils in the CCIN, we in Islington have a local plan to turn this thinking into action. Building on the work of our own Employment Commission last year, Islington’s cooperative commitment contains three elements. First, intensive, personalised coaching and mentoring from our iWork service for local people, especially those with disabilities and health conditions who are poorly served by mainstream programmes. Second, establishing a single point of contact for local employers to provide them with help and support to recruit locally into high quality jobs that offer flexible hours and a living wage. Third, calling on the next government to devolve much of the power, money and responsibility for employment support and for adult skills to councils, who have the appetite and expertise to support their residents facing long-term unemployment and complex barriers into work.
We shall be measuring progress carefully. Success will mean a significant increase in the employment rate in the borough from 70.5 per cent of working age people (June 2014); a decrease from 12,600 in the number of people claiming sickness and disability benefits (currently the highest in London); reducing the proportion of JSA claimants claiming for over a year from 30 per cent (September 2014); and an increase in users’ satisfaction with the employment service they receive from the council and its partners in JobCentrePlus, the NHS and the voluntary sector.
Together with other cooperative councils, Islington is innovating, not waiting, when it comes to helping its residents find work. Making the most of their energy and talent by involving them in the design and delivery of employment schemes is vital but virtually impossible with the current, centrally-driven programme. Responsibility and resources for back-to-work programmes should be transferred not just from Whitehall to Town Halls, but to people in their local communities as well.
Cllr Andy Hull is Executive Member for Finance at Islington Council. He tweets at @AndyHull79.