Collaborating around skills may be a challenge, but the benefits for Growth Borough residents and businesses will be considerable
Towards the end of 2014, Shared Intelligence worked with the Growth Boroughs to identify opportunities for further collaboration on skills and employment to feed in to development of the next six Growth Boroughs Convergence Strategy 2015 - 2018. Here Lee Shostak reflects on some of the project’s key findings and explains why it has left him feeling so positive about opportunities for further collaboration across the Growth Boroughs.
At some point in January, or perhaps February, the population of Greater London hit 8.6 million. The last time London was that big was 1939. After the 1939 high London’s population did drop back quite considerably. But since the early 1990s its population has once again been steadily growing. That growth is projected to continue until London has over 10 million residents. Where will all the new people and businesses be accommodated? The short answer is that much of it will be in the East of London, in the Growth Boroughs. A more challenging question is what needs to happen to ensure that Growth Borough residents benefit from the new opportunities brought by growth? Specifically, how can the Growth Boroughs, skills sector and employers work together to ensure borough residents have the skills and employment support they need?
This was the question Shared Intelligence was asked to help the Growth Boroughs and their partners to explore, as building block for the next Convergence strategy.
The Growth Boroughs represent a national opportunity …
The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games helped refocus attention on East London. A quick look at a map shows the scale of developments already in the pipeline or on the ground. As well as Canary Wharf, one of the strongest global financial centres, the Growth Boroughs are also home to a cluster of the UK’s most ambitious regeneration projects including the Royal Docks, Olympicolpolis, Blackhorse Lane, Greenwich Peninsula Barking Riverside and Bishopsgate. The Growth Boroughs offer London space to grow.
The six Growth Boroughs are also currently home to over 1.6 million people, with 1 million people of working age. Between now and 2022 the working age population is projected to grow by a further 160,000. That is roughly equivalent to the total population of Reading. On top of that the Growth Boroughs’ workforce is younger and more diverse than any other other UK city. This is a workforce that can power a growing economy.
… but skills and employment remain key to Convergence
Considerable progress has been made towards the Growth Boroughs’ goal of Convergence with the rest of London on a range of wellbeing and prosperity indicators. Some gaps have been closed, others narrowed. But more needs to be done, particularly to address some stubborn gaps in the skills and employment opportunities of existing Growth Borough residents.
Overall, the employment rate in the Growth Boroughs remains well below the London average. There are significant differences across the boroughs, and for different ethnic groups, with some far more disadvantaged than others. Unemployment is high, particularly amongst 16 - 24 year olds. Growth Borough residents have lower qualifications than in London as a whole; only around 40% of those without qualifications are in employment. In-work poverty is increasing, with low pay a particular challenge.
Why is this so important? To be blunt, the momentum behind development in the Growth Boroughs is now fairly well established. Improving transport links is certainly important in attracting new businesses and enabling existing businesses to grow, and will be another major element of the next Convergence strategy. However, the real prize is to ensure that as the economy of the Growth Boroughs develops and new employment and enterprise opportunities are created that residents of the Growth Boroughs are able to benefit; that alongside welcoming new residents and entrants to the labour market, the Growth Boroughs economy is also able to support existing residents to access and progress within work.
The Growth Boroughs are building on a strong track record…
The Growth Boroughs already have an enviable track record of collaboration for the benefit of residents and the local economy. We saw plenty of evidence of the strong relationships initially forged in order to deliver the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games that have continued and developed. The challenge is to ensure that these are focused, and sometimes refocused, in the most impactful way for the future.
During the research, the Growth Boroughs and a range of local and national partners began to develop ideas for further collaboration; opportunities to work together to address commonly agreed priorities.
… now is the time to take collaboration to the next level
This is not collaboration for the sake of collaboration. Some of those working together are also competitors. Alongside the successes of collaboration in developing skills and creating employment opportunities for local residents in the delivery of the Olympics, and then of the QEOP, there is also an increasing emphasis on collaboration in accessing funding. For example there are serious amounts of money from both the London Enterprise Panel’s Local Growth Funds and from Europe that are only available where there is evidence of collaboration between boroughs and partners in both the development of proposals and plans for their delivery.
We have enjoyed working with the Growth Boroughs on this project and look forward to watching as the next Convergence strategy takes shape and in due course is implemented. It has been great to see a range of conversations that started or were energised by the research continuing to gain momentum. The future of skills and employment support is increasingly collaborative, and locally focused. The work that the Growth Boroughs and partners have done over the last few years has put them in a good position to grasp new opportunities for the benefit of their residents, but also to act as a model from which other areas can learn.
Lee Shostak, OBE, is a Founder and Director of Shared Intelligence