Councils want power to aid jobless

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COUNCIL leaders in Yorkshire are asking the Government to give them a leading role in getting the unemployed back to work.

Yorkshire councils believe they can use the money the Government spends on supporting the unemployed more efficiently and are better placed to co-ordinate what JobCentre Plus offices are doing with training providers and understand the needs of business in the area.

Many councils in the region are already sub-contractors on the Government’s ‘work programme’ but the idea now being put forward would represent a significant increase in their role and influence over supporting the unemployed.

Barnsley Council leader Stephen Houghton said: “In places like Yorkshire and Humber in particular areas where economy is pretty flat, we have got to make sure all the agencies are lined up together and are utilising all their resources.

“The key players are work providers, JobCentre Plus, local authorities and so on. We think by bringing all that together it will be more efficient in cost terms, we think we can get better outcomes, and it brings some accountability to how this money is spent locally.

“The Government would get savings and we would get a better result targeted to the areas we need.”

There were 246,000 unemployed people in the region between November and January, a rise of 3,000 on the previous three months.

The region’s unemployment rate of nine per cent is the second highest in the country behind the North East.

Last year Cities Minister Greg Clark suggested that councils should be given the right to bid to run central government services.

Four local authorities in the West Midlands have already expressed an interest in running JobCentre Plus in their areas.

Bradford Council leader David Green said: “What we recognise and to an extent the Government has recognised is that one size doesn’t fit all.

“We’ve got the knowledge of local economy and knowledge of the economy growth areas that we are trying to tap into and a centrally directed department responsible for things like the work programme and is running down tramlines and doesn’t have that flexibility to adapt to the local developments that are going on.

“By integrating it at a regional or sub-regional level it means it can be much more responsive to the opportunities that are arising.”

Councils in South and West Yorkshire have already taken control of some skills funding from Whitehall as part of the ‘city deals’ agreed with Ministers last year.

Kirklees Council leader Mehboob Khan said: “There is similarity to what we’ve done on apprenticeships. We had an agreement with Government that West Yorkshire and York will be a NEET free area by 2016.

“We would have a similar agreement with Government that we would reduce unemployment levels by a certain percentage but we need the tools and the power to do that.”

York Council leader James Alexander and North East Lincolnshire Council leader Chris Shaw have also expressed support for the idea.

The Government’s £5bn work programme is its flagship policy aimed at getting people who have been out of work for more than a year back into a job.

Contractors are paid largely by results with rewards based on both finding an individual a job and keeping them in it.

But it has been dogged by criticism with official figures published last year suggesting just 3.5 per cent of those taking part finding a job lasting at least six months.