Adrian Owens: What’s needed are effective welfare to work policies
Adrian Owens has been a Parliamentary candidate and is on the candidates’ list. Now a business consultant he also volunteers as a Princes Trust business mentor. He is a former General Manager of CREATE Liverpool.
The northwest of England is in the media spotlight at present. No sooner has Condi Rice departed than we Conservatives arrive for our Spring Forum. Coming from Lancashire, I have grown weary of the putdown comments of some party members when they visit Blackpool for party conference. No doubt some members will be having similar negative thoughts as they approach the journey north this weekend.
However, such denigrators will no doubt be pleasantly surprised. Manchester city centre has been transformed in recent years. Spring Forum visitors will note the high-rise Beetham Tower changing the city skyscape at the end of Deansgate, and of course the city held a successful Commonwealth Games in a stadium that was actually built on time – Wembley please note!
However, scratch below the surface of Manchester or its rival and neighbour Liverpool, and the picture is more depressing. In Liverpool 29% of the working population are reliant on state handouts, in Manchester the figure is 27.4%. These figures are among the highest in the country and are not matched by levels in other northern cities. The figure for Leeds by comparison is only 13.4%. For whole swathes of Manchester, behind the veneer of the city centre, Labour’s welfare to work slogan rings hollow.
Finding a solution to the chronic inactivity of many in our cities promises a lasting solution to their regeneration and a more effective solution to the strains caused by immigration than anything proposed to date. The culture of accepting state handouts is deeply entrenched among many, sapping confidence and encouraging fatalism, so solutions are not quick and may appear expensive.
There are many organisations working to tackle this supply side issue and as a party we need to understand their work and develop policies that support them while at the same time expanding provision massively. It’s encouraging to see the party talking with organisations such as the Princes Trust that lever in much voluntary support to provide a cost-effective and personal service to support young people into employment.
CREATE in Speke in Liverpool shows what can be achieved in helping the inactive compete in the labour market. Established in 1996 it provides a “bridge” between economic inactivity and employment for around 25 employees at a time. The staff are employed on a 12-month fixed-term contract and paid a salary. They undergo training in vocational qualifications while refurbishing and recycling white goods for sale to the local community. During their time at CREATE they build confidence and apply for jobs in the local economy hopefully leaving to employment after around 9-10 months. The results are impressive. Speke is the 2nd most deprived ward in the entire country yet CREATE has moved more than 200 long-term unemployed people into permanent and lasting employment. It succeeds with around 70% of its employees.
Moreover the white goods that the enterprise refurbishes are sold with a 12-month guarantee at low cost to people in the local community who couldn’t afford a £300 washing machine. CREATE receives the majority of its income through the sale of these appliances. Metals are recycled and CFC gases from old refrigeration units are captured for safe treatment and disposal.
A lasting memory of my time at CREATE came with the blossoming of the local automotive sector centred on the infamous Halewood plant now transformed as a Jaguar factory. We were having increasing success placing our employees into permanent quality jobs in the automotive sector. Then one young man of 23 years old who had never worked before since leaving school without any qualifications landed a job at the Jensen sports car factory on the basis of his time at CREATE. He returned a week or so later in a Jensen borrowed from the factory. A great inspiration for our remaining employees and a powerful memory about how CREATE changes lives.
CREATE is only one of many social enterprises dealing with the less glamorous side of city regeneration, ensuring people have a fighting chance in the modern labour market. For more information visit www.createuk.com. This is an area too long neglected by Conservatives and it’s time we took up the baton from a Labour government that has patently failed with “welfare to work”.