Details of £77m plan for youth jobs to be approved

DETAILED plans which aim to tackle youth unemployment across a swathe of the region are set to be agreed later this week, with more than £77m earmarked for the three-year project.

Employers have agreed to contribute £37.4m to the scheme in wages and employment costs for 4,000 new apprentices, while the Government has pledged £27.8m through its Skills Funding Agency.

Councils across the Sheffield City Region (SCR) have agreed to make up the extra £12m from existing budgets under a so-called City Deal which will see Whitehall cash devolved for the scheme.

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As well as Shefffield, the city region includes Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley as well as Bassetlaw in north Nottinghamshire and North East Derbyshire, Chesterfield, Bolsover and the Derbyshire Dales.

The so-called “skills programme” will be led by Sheffield Council on behalf of the other authorities, but it requires the approval of the city’s Labour-led cabinet which next meets on Thursday.

In a report to cabinet members, Eve Waite, the council’s head of employment and skills, said: “In spite of the recession, the council remains commitited to reducing youth unemployment.

“The city deal for skills will, over a three-year period, address the emerging skills gaps and shortages that SCR employers have identified as a result of an ageing workforce.

“It will also address skills deficits in new recruits and the demands for better skilled employees associated with new techniques and technologies.”

Ms Waite said the programme will focus mainly on apprenticeships, with Sheffield companies alone recruiting almost 1,600 new apprentices, but added some cash would also be spent on “upskilling”.

This means that around 2,000 people who are already of working age will be offered the chance to undergo courses which will give them skills new employers need in IT and advanced manufacturing.

Plans to set up an “apprenticeship and skills hub” have already been drawn up with what is described as a “small but expert management function” to guide employers through recruitment and training.

But the proposal to employ a Skills City Deal Director have already proved controversial, with some criticism of the £66,000-a-year salary offered for the post against a backdrop of cuts.

The director will be employed by the Sheffield Local Enterprise Partnership, which was set up after regional development agency Yorkshire Forward was abolished by the coalition Government.

Interviews for the job, which will initially be offered on an interim nine-month contract are due to take place on Friday, but critics have said the cash could be better spent.

Earlier this month, Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said the authority was facing an extra £10m in cuts next year, and other authorities in South Yorkshire have also made dire predictions.

But Mrs Dore said Sheffield Council was still committed to tackling youth unemployment under her Standing Up For Sheffield plan, which the city deal is part of.

Speaking as the extra cuts were announced last week, she said: “We are going to be forced to implemement savage cuts, and although we don;t control the local economy we can work with it.

“We see ourselves as an enabling council and in these difficult times, somebody has got to show leadership.”

Last week the Yorkshire Post revealed that a £1bn funding pot was being set aside as part of the Leeds City Region’s City Deal, with a £1bn pot for transport scheme in West Yorkshire and York.

The Sheffield City Region City Deal also includes a £500m fund which councils will be able to access to tackle infrastructure projects which will help with economic aims.