Select Committee on Work and Pensions Third Report


Committee Visit to Birmingham - 13 June 2002

[An extract of the brief supplied by the DWP is attached as Appendix A.]

Birmingham City Council

[Mr Paul Spooner, Head of the Economic Department.]

Mr Spooner described major local projects, such as the reconstruction of the Bull Ring, which were vital in providing new local jobs for local people. On the supply side, local agencies were working hard in local communities via Employment Resource Centres, which were supported by ESF money matched by the Council, aimed at hard to reach people, many of whom were outside the system and working in the black economy. There were also particular problems faced by Asian women and disabled people who were difficult to place in work.

The City Council leads in planning and development and uses this as a platform for job creation. Other groups cover areas such as health, construction, major retail investment and voluntary service groups.

The Learning and Skills Council was also involved in the strategic group identifying basic skills needs. The City Strategic Partnership also had responsibility for Neighbourhood Renewal and delegated most responsibility to local wards. The partnership included a small external funding team which sought funds once strategies were set.

Employers have a partnership with the City Council via Business Link and other organisations such as 3B (Black Business in Birmingham). The nearby Jewellery Quarter had 1,200 small businesses, 31 per cent of whom did not have a computer.

Mr Spooner suggested that certain changes would further improve the situation:

-   fewer new (Government) initiatives; and

-    fewer conflicting or overlapping boundaries.

Jobcentre Plus, West Midlands Regional Office

[The Committee held informal discussions over a working lunch attended by Ms Margaret Tovey, District Manager, Jobcentre Plus, Mike Beasley, Executive Director of Jaguar Cars and Chair of Birmingham Employer Coalition, representatives of Birmingham Strategic Partnership, Pertemps Employment Alliance and Mr Peter Tomlinson from a local radio station. For full attendance, see Appendix B.]

The Birmingham Employment Coalition covered a cross-section of industrial and commercial sectors. Its key aim was to ensure that the recruitment needs of local employers was reflected in employment policies. It acted as a "friendly critic". It was vocal and active especially via the National Employment Panel.

There had been a change in mindset in recent years and membership of the coalition was being reviewed to ensure wide representation. It was also trying to find ways to support Jobcentre Plus local account managers.

The work was driven mainly by sector but some topics (e.g. ethnic minorities) covered several sectors. The manufacturing sector still accounts for approximately 30 per cent of job opportunities. It was vital for Jobcentre Plus to understand the needs of employers. Local account managers played a vital role.

A relaxation of the criteria for referral to programmes would be welcome, although it was pointed out that this would have resource implications. There should be more local discretion and fewer targets for Jobcentre Plus. There should be some classification of the levels of disadvantage. There was a culture of exclusion (particularly for those involved in the black economy).

More attention should be given to the New Deal 50+ and to those in that age-range.

Pertemps Employment Alliance

[Mr Colin Burchall, Managing Director, Mr Steve King, Operations Director.]

Pertemps Employment Alliance (PEA) had the contract for the Birmingham Employment Zone. It was their only EZ contract and is the largest single Zone contract awarded. Birmingham was the most ethnically mixed of all the EZ areas, with 48 per cent of participants from ethnic minorities. Of the first tranche of 9,700 participants (from April 2000), provisional figures showed that 36 per cent went into work, and 83 per cent were still in work 13 weeks later. The basic entry criteria for EZ assistance was that a person, aged 25 or more, had been unemployed for at least 12 months. At the time of referral, the average length of unemployment was 4.2 years.

The key feature of Employment Zones, was that they were completely privately run and had greater flexibility, compared to government-run programmes, in what they could put together as a package of assistance for individuals. For example, PEA had a 'Making Music Work' project which organised events showcasing Pertemps clients - designed to make links between performing musicians, technicians, and the music industry.

Edgbaston Cricket Centre

At Edgbaston Cricket Ground, Home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club, the Committee was shown the 'Cricket without Boundaries' motivation course set up between the Club, PEA and South Birmingham College. There were two courses: a three-week course for people aged 25+ run with PEA and a 16+ course run for 13 weeks with the college. Using both an onsite classroom and the sports facilities at the club, the courses aimed to use the medium of sport to teach teamwork, leadership skills, and build self-esteem. The courses were a route both into education and employment. The community also benefited from what was being offered. One offshoot was the training of people as sports coaches, going into local schools. Roughly 3,500 children per week were getting sports coaching as a result. They were also operating in Brinsford Young Offenders Prison.

Sparkill Employment Zone Centre

[The Committee then visited the Pertemps Local Centre in Sparkhill. The group was divided, making comprehensive note-taking difficult, but the Committee saw the general activity of a very busy centre and met with representatives and clients of Action Teams.]

This is one of seven development centres across the Employment Zone. Members and Committee staff were greeted by Jag Sandhu (Sparkhill Centre Manager) and then given an individual Employment Zone coach to explore different facets which make up the Employment Zone's current activities. The Chairman looked at special needs services (Dyslexia Workshop) and New Deal for Disabled. Mr Goodman looked at training - retail training and a language class. Mrs Humble looked at Employer Linkage, in particular, recruitment services with Dura Automotive a supplier to the motor trade. Between September 2001 and January 2002, PEA co-ordinated five recruitment events resulting in 43 job offers to unemployed clients. Mr Mitchell was taken to see the work done in assisting people towards self-employment. Philip Moon was taken to see the work of PEA with the Scarman Trust (working with ethnic minority communities to develop strategies for increased employment, better social conditions and social inclusion), and Action Teams for Jobs. Janet Allbeson was shown Special Projects: the promotion of use of banking facilities for Step 2 Zone clients; a partnership project with Gwinto (Gas and Water Industry National Training Organisation) running a 28-week fast track programme to provide people with the necessary core skills to undertake gas installation duties for the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme; the childcare recruitment project offering an introductory three-day course to raise awareness of career pathways within the childcare field; the New Deal for Lone Parents; and 'Making Music Work' - a project which in addition to helping musicians find outlets also offers classroom learning, ideas on self-employment opportunities and gives clients the possibility of using their skills in local education.

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