Unemployment in Birmingham was a huge problem even before this recession, with levels at 20% in some wards in the city. With the economic downturn particularly affecting the manufacturing industry, and unemployment now considerably worse, getting people back into work has become the city’s biggest priority.
A £500m fund set up for the City Region to tackle this problem, and a new plan – the Multi Area Agreement for Employment and Skills (MAA)- gives us the opportunity to make a real difference to residents’ lives. Unfortunately, however, and even though Birmingham makes up 40% of the City Region in terms of population, there’s not a single elected member for the city sitting on the Board set up to administer the MAA. Instead, the Employment and Skills Strategic Management Board (ESSMB) is made up of chairs of the regional Employment and Skills Boards, directors of Job Centre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council, and the chief executive of Solihull Council. The only councillors on the board are the leaders of Solihull and Dudley Council. There are no elected members representing the interests of Birmingham residents, despite our particularly acute problem with unemployment.
We desperately need a fresh approach, particularly given the lack of progress made in the past. The reason this issue is in the news today is because the Council’s Regeneration Scrutiny Committee ‘called in’ the original Cabinet decision, made in June. The Birmingham Post’s call for a City Region version of this body, to scrutinise the Employment Management Board which, afterall, meets behind closed doors, is an excellent idea. And proper accountability at the regional level should also reduce the risk of further ‘call-ins’ when the money is eventually spent on the ground.