Taking the Valleys Forward

June 26th 2017

Victoria Winckler outlines the Bevan Foundation’s recommendations on how to achieve a step-change in the economy and labour market of the south Wales Valleys.

 

The Valleys Taskforce caused quite a stir when it was announced nearly a year ago. We held our breath – the need for new ways of revitalising some of Wales’ most disadvantaged communities was off-set by a sense of deja vu. We were pleased to set out some ideas to the Taskforce more than six months ago.

Time’s rolled on, and surprised by some rather late-in-the-day surveys and discussions (I was always taught you gather your evidence first) and concerned that some of our ideas were getting mangled in the intervening months, we’ve pulled together our recommendations ahead of the publication of the Taskforce’s proposals. You can read the report here.

So what do we say?

1.    Overarching principles

The Valleys Taskforce’s recommendations need to form a coherent and robust package. To do so, they should be based on some key principles that run through all its work. We recommend that they are as follows:

  • Priority for the Valleys

The Valleys Taskforce should set out a programme that is specific to the Valleys’ needs and circumstances – Wales-wide programmes that are tweaked around the edges simply don’t do this.

  • Credible definition

The area that comprises ‘the Valleys’ needs to be clearly defined. We don’t hink it credible that the area includes areas such as Cwmbran, Treforest, Llantrisant or Pencoed simply because of their location in local authority areas that have some Valleys coverage.

  • New approach

To date, the focus on high growth sectors, cities and inward investment has sometimes resulted in jobs that are too far from home, that require skills that are not attainable for people without qualifications and which offer poor rewards. A new approach takes the Programme for Government’s commitment to ‘support people when they need it most’ by addressing in practical ways what Valleys people and communities need.

  • Recognise diversity

The Valleys are hugely diverse and include some of the least-deprived communities in Wales as well as some of the most deprived.  The Taskforce should recognise the complexity within the Valleys and propose effective action that builds on the area’s strengths as well as its problems.

  • Effective delivery

Delivery on the ground is paramount. There is a strong case for a dedicated unit to ensure that focus on the Valleys is secured and the necessary impetus maintained.

2.    Spatial Priorities

The Valleys are complex geographically and comprise much, much more than simple north-south corridors leading to the capital coastal belt.  It is vital that the Taskforce recognises this complexity through an effective spatial strategy for the area comprising:

  • Designated growth hubs

Towns in the valleys with substantial populations in a 15-20 minute travel time; which have anchor institutions such as local authorities, hospitals, education campuses and with great strategic transport links should become ‘growth hubs’.

  • Garden villages

We recommend enhancing some communities as superb places to live, through environmentally-friendly residential and other development, good transport infrastructure and great family facilities, bringing much-needed choice and new investment to Valleys communities.

  • Disconnected communities

A small number of communities in the Valleys are disconnected by a combination of their geographical isolation, poor transport links and the skills of their residents.  Improved local transport and significant investment in local skills provision, alongside innovative measures to build community wealth, would re-connect them with the mainstream economy.

3.    More and better jobs within the valleys

The Valleys are the economic powerhouse of south-east Wales, with nearly 300,000 employee and self-employed jobs are based there.  Despite its strengths there is a shortfall of some 67,000 jobs relative to its population of working age. We recommend:

  • Harnessing the power of procurement

Public procurement has yet to achieve its potential to stimulate the economy in Wales let alone the valleys. We suggest that public bodies should be required to create a minimum of one new, decent job per £1 million of contract value and earmark a small proportion of their total budgets to foster the development of good quality local suppliers.

  • Relocate public services to the valleys

Public bodies should commit to locating a minimum of 1,000 new public sector jobs in the Heads of the Valleys, in addition to those already announced, either by the transfer of existing functions or when new bodies are created.

  • Living Wage

All public sector employers in the Valleys should be be accredited as Living Wage employers by 2020 and local Living Wage campaigns should increase take up in the private and non-profit sectors.

  • Stimulate Enterprise and Innovation  

New jobs should be stimulated by creating through new enterprise and innovation zones at locations with business growth potential and incentivise local recruitment.

 4. Help people into decent work

To reduce the unemployment and economic inactivity rates to the current Wales rate by 2021, some 11,000 people will need to move from worklessness to having a paid job. This will require a dramatic step-up in successful placements and effective linkages with job creation.  We recommend the following:

  • Create one-stop job shops

One-stop job shops would bring together the plethora of employment support services,  open to anyone, combining work-first as well as careers advice and guidance, tailored to individuals’ needs and circumstances.

  • Recruitment Grants

Employers should be encouraged to recruit and retain people resident in the valleys who are some distance from the labour market through wage subsidies and training grants. We envisage two levels of assistance reflecting the support needs of the recruit:  a lower rate for those with moderate needs and a higher rate for those needing intensive support.

  • Sector Skills Centres

Sector skills centres provide a jobs boost for people in sectors with large volumes of vacancies.  The offer of sector-specific pre-employment training, work experience and a guaranteed job interview, linked to a genuine vacancy, have very positive benefits for participants who are out of work.

So there you have it. These proposals aren’t whims or back of an envelope jottings – they are drawn from comprehensive reviews of evidence undertaken by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Warwick University / LSE. They are proven to work.  Indeed, if these ideas are absent from the Welsh Government’s announcements, the question should be why are they ignoring the evidence and not giving the Valleys the best. It’s like going to the doctor with an infection and being given a tonic when what you need is the right kind of antibiotic.

Watch this space.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation. 

 

 

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