Inclusive growth was at the heart of the North of Tyne devolution deal and is a thread running through everything that the combined authority does. Like many places across the UK, challenges around economic inactivity and skills and recruitment shortages were exacerbated in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Alongside their three constituent local authorities, Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside, and the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), the North of Tyne Combined Authority called on the Inclusive Growth Network (IGN) to support the development of an employability plan for the region to enable more people to enter and stay in work.
This project addressed three interlinked elements to tackle these challenges and maximise the inclusive growth benefits of service delivery:
- Developing a clear understanding of the key challenges
- Convening partners around a shared set of ambitious priorities
- Putting in place the partnership governance to make it happen
Labour market and skills analysis, led by Centre for Progressive Policy, identified that economic inactivity amongst the over 50s is a particular challenge in the North of Tyne area, with a significantly higher number than the national average in this age group becoming economically inactive due to ill health. This had not previously been identified as a priority of employability support.
To develop a cohesive employer narrative from across a range of key sectors, CBI Economics were commissioned to carry out business voice engagement. This identified long-term challenges which had been exacerbated by the pandemic, including high turnover, early retirement and a lack of essential skills. These insights were brought together into an Employability Plan that aims to provide sustainable opportunities to support resilient, skilled and creative individuals.
The combined authority has taken a novel approach to deliver the Employability Plan by establishing a Strategic Employability Group that delivers and coordinates activity. At an operational level, Employment Partnerships coordinate employment support, bring partners together and support people into work. The IGN provided input and advice on who to bring around the table and the terms of reference for this group, to ensure the governance enabled it to be as effective as possible in delivering for the region.
These structures have consolidated and coordinated activity across the three local authorities, opening up opportunities for further innovation, such as Working Well Hubs that bring together employment support, health advice and social prescribing. The collaborative approach to the plan and its ownership has meant that there is clear alignment and a shared approach, with individual organisations’ efforts collectively able to contribute more than the sum of their parts.
Develop a clear understanding of the key challenges:
- Blend quantitative analysis with qualitative insights. Use data analysis to identify and understand the opportunities and challenges. But this alone is not enough – there can be methodological challenges and gaps, and often data is backward looking. Bring this together with qualitative insights from meaningful engagement with a range of stakeholders – often this can help add richness and nuance.
- Engage with businesses. Understanding the employer’s perspective and developing shared solutions is crucial to the design of any employability strategy or programme. As far as possible go beyond ‘the usual suspects’ to capture a range of views and be able to build a nuanced employer narrative. In this work, CBI Economics engaged with retail, hospitality, digital/tech, health and social care, green economy, and professional service companies, enabling the combined authority to embed a range of employer views into the employability plan’s design.
Convene partners around a shared set of ambitious priorities:
- Work collaboratively to develop a shared vision. It is important to bring all partners and stakeholders together as early as possible in the process to codevelop a shared vision and set of priorities. This is often an iterative process – it won’t be right first time and this is okay. Invite key stakeholders to reflect and input to the work at important points in the process as your thinking evolves.
Put in place the partnership governance to make it happen:
- Ensure the right people are around the table. Driving inclusive growth means coordinating activity across the system and between different agencies. This requires developing strong partnerships and bringing the right people together at the strategic and operational levels to deliver change, and being precise on structures, governance and terms of reference of partnerships so all stakeholders are clear on their roles and remit in delivering that shared vision.
This work has been delivered through fully funded IGN implementation advice – bespoke delivery support, tailored to member needs, which helps to unlock projects that deliver inclusive growth.