Headlines: March 4th, 2009

Government ministers are to work closely with local government leaders to consider recommendations from a report looking at how to support councils in boosting employment. A national forum is being set up to bring together local authorities, Whitehall departments and other organisations.

The report has been produced by Stephen Houghton, the Leader of Barnsley Council. It called for more apprenticeships with councils, ‘work taster’ programmes, a pooling of local and central financial support and immediate efforts by councils to assess how the downturn is affecting their areas. Councillor Houghton argued for councils to provide 50,000 apprenticeship places by 2011. He also suggested the setting up of a new Challenge Fund to boost local enterprise.

Local Government Minister John Healey and Employment Minister Tony McNulty welcomed the report and said they would work with the Local Government Association to consider all the report’s recommendations and to respond in full alongside next month’s Budget. The new national forum will support the implementation of the Houghton recommendations and challenge Government where it finds barriers to councils helping local unemployed people back into work. Three million pounds is being made available to begin preparations to help councils so that the best solutions can be spread across the country.

Stephen Houghton said, “Worklessness is not a problem that can be solved in isolation. The causes and solutions vary from place to place and sector to sector. That is why Whitehall and councils must work together, laser-targeting their full resources and focus toward helping people at the local level.”

John Healey said the report had come up with innovative solutions many of which were supported by the Government and could be implemented quickly and effectively. “This economic downturn is hitting different parts of the country in different ways and to different degrees, and in this climate councils are best placed to know the difficulties their areas face, and how best to help,” he said.