The strategy intended to boost the take-up of apprenticeships, encourage living wages with businesses, tackle unemployment and in-work poverty, and create good jobs for everyone.
London Borough of Waltham Forest, (LBWF) is located in North East London, part of the Local London devolved sub-region and one of the original Growth Boroughs for the 2012 Olympics and the first London Borough of Culture (2018). It has a diverse and changing population, with good transport routes into London, key sectors include health and social care, construction, retail, office administration and a developing cultural and creative sector.
COVID-19 has had a big impact on the local economy. The borough had the fastest increase in rates of Universal Credit claims in the first few weeks of the lockdown in March 2020, with claimant rates tripling from 3.5 to 10 per cent, the employment rate reducing by 3 per cent and a current furlough rate of 20 per cent (which was in excess 30 per cent over summer 2020). Overall these rates have been higher than the London and national average. The 18-24 age range has experienced the highest rate of UC claims in January 2021, at 14 per cent.
The council has a mature and growing employment and skills team, which includes strong relationships with Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) and a diverse portfolio of programmes ranging from a creative focused programme for young people through to a European Social Fund (ESF) funded programme supporting people furthest from the labour market. In addition to core council funding the team is funded through a combination of ESF programmes, Flexible Support Funding and Section 106 funding secured through the housing and growth schemes across the borough.
LBWF’s Think Work Strategy, approved by the Cabinet in September 2019 outlined a plan to boost good jobs and skills locally through the employment and skills service, encouraging other council services to consider employment outcomes with a focus on three key sectors including construction, health and social care, and culture. The strategy intended to boost the take-up of apprenticeships, encourage living wages with businesses, tackle unemployment and in-work poverty, and create good jobs for everyone.
The Think Work strategy was developed equally to help engage other council services in the employment agenda, this combined with improved digital capacity, enabled council teams to move at pace. The employment and skills service is funded through various national and regional funders, supporting different needs and groups which resulted in a patchwork of programmes. However this ability to pull different funding streams together enabled the service to reorient provision at the same time as moving to a Rapid Employment Service within a week.
The borough went from having one of the lowest rates of unemployment to one of the highest, highlighting the prevalence of precarious work within Waltham Forest, with a relatively large self-employed population and significant employment within entry-level roles and in the sectors most impacted by the lockdown.
The expected demand for support was not as high as originally expected because of significant rates of furlough experienced in the borough, but the impact of this is likely to work through the system later this year when furlough ends. The following shows the latest data on the impact on Waltham Forest from furlough and reducing pay trends. The sectors that have experienced the biggest impacts in Waltham Forest include Administration & support services, which is projected to see 10.3 percent of the workforce being made redundant in the next three months, as well as experiencing a reduction in median pay. Construction, Arts, entertainment & recreation, and Wholesale & retail trade are also expected to see continuing impacts based on high furlough rates, expected redundancies, and reductions in median pay.
The council’s leadership acknowledged that employment and skills was front and centre in the economic recovery of the borough. The pandemic and the fact that ESF was coming to an end provided the council with a timely opportunity to assess the employment and skills service as part of a Radical Recovery Review. The review identified the gap between the employment service and business teams and hotspots in the borough where need for support was likely to rise but services and support were not as accessible. The employment and skills team worked with internal teams and partners to deploy the offer within the borough’s neighbourhoods.
Data played a key part in helping to influence provision. For example, the increase in UC claims in the south of the borough (Leyton/Leytonstone) showed that there was likely to be greatest need for employment support, so the council worked with their JETS provider to ensure there was a physical presence in that area for residents to access.
The findings led to ‘Connecting people with Jobs’ being identified as one of four key priorities in the council public service strategy. The review highlighted the need to provide a ‘universal offer’ to residents and business alike, and rather than being led by the funding opportunities available, focus on need. To this end the employment and skills team has secured over £500,000 of funding to take forward their Jobs Recovery Plan and Jobs Coalition launched at a Jobs recovery Summit on 19 March 2021. This resource will be focused on delivering a cohesive service offer and seamless support for residents and businesses. This includes supporting Kickstart and working in local neighbourhoods to support businesses to reopen and developing a jobs coalition with key partners, contractors, suppliers and developers.
Key learning points
- The brokerage skills developed in the team were used to initially support the re-deployment of staff to response roles and since then in responding to the need for testing and vaccination roll out programmes in the borough.
- Although some of the work directly related to the implementation of the Think Work strategy has eased, Jobs Recovery is vital to the recovery of the borough post-COVID. As such, the strategic aims have been given more prominence corporately and remain key tenets of service delivery.
- The health and social care sector has grown, community support has expanded, and the vaccination programme has needed a workforce for implementation, albeit temporarily. This opportunity to provide work and work experience has been beneficial.
- The service has supported 350 residents that were unemployed over the lockdown periods, with 200 entering employment, 70 of which with the test and vaccination centres.
The Rapid Recovery Review highlighted that the employment and skills service were focussed on working with residents rather than businesses. While the recovery has allowed for greater cohesion between the employment and business teams, more work is needed. To that end the council has held both a Business Recovery and Jobs Recovery Summit and conducted a number of surveys, focus groups and webinars to understand business needs on the ground and are setting up a Business Recovery Board to ensure a closer partnership with the business community. The council is exploring ways in which to link their work with businesses to focus on attracting inward investment and ensuring social value from this investment.
There are a number of work streams in the pipeline to enhance the employment and skills service using the additional council investment including:
- further professionalising their universal service offer by enhancing their monitoring processes to show the social value and returns of investment in supporting business and residents
- building on their community response to help get people into jobs using the talents and experience of residents to help each other
- exploring how to attract new businesses alongside inward investment opening up commercial floor space for jobs growth
- ensuring vulnerable groups get the right jobs and skills support. There are still challenges in supporting NEETs who fall through the gaps and awareness of the increased demand for providing mental health support alongside traditional employability programmes.
Assistant Director Employment Business and Skills