Agenda item

Delivering Inclusive Growth in Solihull

The report outlines progress on the delivery of the inclusive growth programme and wider activity to deliver inclusive growth.

Minutes:

The report before the Scrutiny Board provided an outline of progress on the delivery of the inclusive growth programme and wider activity to deliver inclusive growth.

 

Following a report presentation by the Head of Inclusive Growth, Members of the Scrutiny Board raised a number of pertinent questions to the report, which in summary included the following matters:

 

Councillor Parker commended the report and the actions detailed within it.  Inclusive Growth was recognised as a broad designation. Councillor Parker highlighted the essential role public transport and wider transport infrastructure had to play in inclusive growth delivery.  Finally, Councillor Parker stated he was surprised that no risk implications had been detailed, such as inflationary cost pressures and questioned whether these factors had been considered.

 

The Head of Inclusive Growth advised the Scrutiny Board that funding challenges had already been highlighted and would be captured via various regeneration projects in the borough.  Officers were reviewing the issue of transport via the Councils Solihull Connected Transport Strategy. As such although transport was not reflected as a theme in the current Inclusive Growth programme it was reflected elsewhere through other Council strategies.

 

Councillor McLoughlin questioned how the current U.K Shared Prosperity Fund compared with the former E.U funding programmes; noted the work undertaken around Investment Zones, noting that they had since ceased impacting on some Solihull projects, and queried in relation to poverty and inequalities how much was this being reduced arising from individual actions or the result of the Inclusive Growth Programme. Councillor McLoughlin stressed the requirement to qualify impacts arising directly from the Inclusive Growth Programme.

 

Members were advised that the current shape and volume of funding approximated to a third less than that previously available, but that some additional elements of funding were available at a national level.  The revised funding criteria was currently being worked through by Officers. 

 

Concerning judging and appraising impacts arising from the Inclusive Growth Programme, the Head of Inclusive Growth advised Members that Officers continued to address this area and were working to produce an outcomes framework for the Inclusive Growth Programme.  It was recognised that there could be a requirement to undertake a further deep dive during 2023/24 to address this area once the Economic Strategy was agreed.

 

Councillor Qais questioned what measures/actions would be considered to ensure the Inclusive Growth Programme was at the centre of the Council Plan.  The Head of Inclusive Growth stated that there was a clear focus on objectives to move funding available through the U.K Shared Prosperity Fund to support delivery of the Inclusive Growth objectives, rather than chasing other funding streams opportunistically.  Work continued to put Inclusive Growth in a clear priority order and in a sustainable way through the Council. 

 

Councillor Thomas noted that a low level of funding had been received via the U.K Shared Prosperity Fund and directed towards the Kingshurst Village Centre development and questioned where other funding sources were expected to be sourced. 

 

Councillor Thomas welcomed the potential employment opportunities to be created in the East Birmingham – North Solihull Corridor but queried whether residents would have the technical skills to access any employment opportunities arising. Councillor Thomas sought clarification as to how employment opportunities for those in low paid roles were made accessible via the new development opportunities that became available.

 

The Head of Inclusive Growth advised that one aspect the Economic Strategy addressed was the end of European funding streams, particularly in relation to enterprise and skills.  Consequently, the Council was keener to engage with employers to identify how the Council should scope all the workforces needs, involving engagement and local training providers requirements for the future workforce in new developments such as Arden Cross.  Finally, Members were advised that there was an increasing move towards in work training and that the WMCA was shifting emphasis towards this agenda.

 

The Assistant Director, Growth and Development further advised Members in respect of Kingshurst Village Centre (KVC) development funding that the Council had been successful in attracting external funding for the design and property acquisition phase.  Funding was also secured for the major demolition phase of the project to date. 

 

Almost all of the funding had been secured externally.  A funding plan was in place and Officers were always seeking to secure additional funding for the project. However, it should be noted that additional funding often becomes available for an application in relatively short time frames.  The Council tried to use external funding wherever possible as a first option. Other bids were currently in the bid process with others still under development. The Council also had access to direct Council funding e.g. the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), or through additional borrowing.  The Council sought to use match funding wherever possible.

 

Councillor Ryan stated that all young people required ambition to acquire the skills which were in demand to access employment.

 

Councillor Ryan highlighted figures from the report detailing engagement with 535 new job seekers and 226 Solihull residents accessing training. However, the figures did not clarify how many led to offers of employment, entering further education or accessing training. What outcomes were arising against the funding provided for these purposes.

 

Finally, Councillor Ryan stated that wider discussion was needed as to how the Council moved forward via discussions with local employers, residents and businesses to clarify if transport, health and access issues were proving to be a barrier to access employment opportunities in Solihull.

 

The Head of Inclusive Growth informed Members that the Council held substantial data on the issues of access to and barriers to employment in the borough, incorporating NEETS data and health issues impacting barriers to employment.  It was important to draw the data and peoples stories together to gain clarity and insight to employment barriers.

 

Councillor Feeney highlighted the section of the report addressing the East Birmingham and North Solihull Corridor and queried whether any more detail was available as to what this entailed.

 

Members were advised that on-going discussions were being held with Birmingham City Council over what North Solihull could look like potentially. The discussions had proved to be positive and continued.

 

Councillor Parker noted that the Council was duty bound to support refugees settling in the borough and that the Council had a duty of care to help refugees integrate into local communities economically in terms of access to employment. Councillor Parker noted that should this not happen then future levels of poverty in the borough would be accentuated.

 

Members were informed by the Head of Inclusive Growth that the Council was supporting a number of refugees, principally from Hong Kong. 

 

Councillor McLoughlin made a case for a KPI suite around the Inclusive Growth Programme to measure progress over the course of a year. Although data may be available Councillor McLoughlin felt that a data driven review of progress was not apparent. A KPI suite would provide some clarity over future direction of travel for the Inclusive Growth Strategy, including impact and outcomes. 

 

Councillor Pinwell concluded the scrutiny of the Inclusive Growth Strategy report by highlighting the substantive issues arising from Members questions, as follows:

 

·  There was an identified need to matching skills people possessed with the jobs that were available to them.

 

·  Many groups of people needed support to be matched into employment: - e.g. refugees, NEETS, learning disabled people.

 

·  Some form of evaluation of the extent of funding required per person to attain employment was required.

 

·  Quantification and supply of underlying data was required to further enhance any future Inclusive Growth Programme reports submitted to the Scrutiny Board would be beneficial, especially in terms of clarifying progress towards implementation of the programme.

 

·  Transport continued to play a significant role in determining how many people could access employment and education opportunities across the borough (including how residents could support local businesses).

 

Having considered the report, the Economic Development and Managed Growth Scrutiny Board:

 

RESOLVED:

 

i.  To note the progress to date with the Inclusive Growth Programme.

 

Supporting documents: