How Local Authorities could use infrastructure projects to help people into work

Major developments in towns and cities could provide vital opportunities for people to learn new skills and support people back to work says Mike Haw.

The jobs created by a new transport project or shopping centre can be a big boost to an area. But these projects could have even more positive impact on the local area, economy and residents if new jobs were targeted at people who are struggling to find work.

Our new report, Major development projects: connecting people in poverty to jobs considers some of these issues. The report, which focusses on the Leeds City Region, finds some good examples of councils using S106 agreements to create jobs and training opportunities. However, they could have an even greater impact on the local economy, community and poverty reduction if schemes were targeted at people with more complex needs. This could come in the form of support through recruitment and early employment or in-work training schemes.

Making this happen is not always simple. Strong political leadership is vital, giving local authority officers working in employment, skills, planning and procurement the confidence and space to work together to maximise the number of job opportunities that can be created.

Local authorities can influence the types of jobs created in the development phase of major projects, such as building construction.  But employment opportunities created by the finished project, such as a large supermarket or a hotel, could also be targeted at households in poverty through S106 agreements. The key is knowing what opportunities are coming up through a project pipeline. There is an opportunity here for greater collaboration between developers, large employers, and local authorities at a city region level to identify skills gaps and develop practical solutions to addressing them.

City leaders have a vital role to play in tackling poverty. But generating employment outcomes in this way cannot be left to local authorities alone – there is more that national governments can do to incentivise this. In England, these measures aren’t usually included in central government procurement and this must be addressed if major infrastructure projects are to bring the maximum benefit to local residents. We also need more joint working from the public and private sectors to find more effective and simpler ways of monitoring how successful projects are at helping people find jobs.

The report also found that changes to national planning policy are making it harder for local authorities to agree employment and training outcomes through the planning process. It’s vital that the forthcoming Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill does not make any further amendments to this area of policy. Using new projects to boost local employment is good for local economies and popular with residents – it’s often community benefits, like employment and skills outcomes, which can tip the public mood in favour of development.

We are currently working with partners in Leeds City Region to find practical ways of connecting people in poverty to the jobs created by investment in the city region following this report. We’re hopeful that a few tweaks and changes to existing policies and processes can result in better outcomes for everyone involved. The work will continue over the coming months, we’ll be sure to blog again to report how we’ve got on.