Why education must be at heart of levelling-up plans – Justine Greening

THE Chancellor delivered his summer statement last week, with the latest raft of emergency tax and spend measures to protect jobs and the economy.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak during a visit to a Job Centre this week as unemployment rises.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak during a visit to a Job Centre this week as unemployment rises.

Hundreds of billions of pounds have been pumped into various measures, ranging from the furlough scheme to cutting VAT.

They may be necessary short-term steps but what happens next year when the spending taps are turned off?

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The UK economy needs a growth plan that can level up Britain and give businesses, consumers and particularly young people looking to the future the confidence and hope they need to start investing and planning ahead.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak - pictured at Cowley Cycles in Nortyhallerton - is being urged to do more to support the economy at this time.

A levelling-up growth plan should harness the big economic shifts that will take place over the coming years.

In the 1980s, the North East saw major investment from Nissan meaning that a brand-new growth sector, car manufacturing, was based locally. It’s still providing the careers and skilled job opportunities for the region 30 years later.

The new growth sectors are the green economy and the digital economy, but the principle should be the same – bring them to the areas where the new jobs and careers are most needed.

We’ve already seen what the investment from wind turbine green technology and Siemens can start to deliver in Hull. In Selby, Drax is transforming itself with an ambition to be the world’s first carbon negative company – by 2030, away from its past as a coal company.

Justine Greening is a former Education Secretary and leading social mobility campaigner.

With those plans go an entire strategy to skill up a workforce for the business Drax is becoming – it can mean fresh opportunities for local communities.

In turn, these new growth industries must have an education system that’s delivering the highly educated, highly skilled young people locally who can take advantage of new opportunities on their doorstep.

The £1bn ‘catch up’ money for schools recovering from the schools shutdown is welcome but let’s have a wider strategy.

Not just for schools but further education too so we make sure young people learn the skills they need for tomorrow’s world and tomorrow’s careers, not the ones that have already been and gone.

For the same reason the role of universities across the region is crucial – whether in York, Bradford or elsewhere. They are major engines of social mobility that will deliver our high-skilled workforce.

At a time when Asian economies are investing more and their universities are moving up the rankings, Britain shouldn’t take its foot off the pedal and stop young people from going to university if they want to.

Britain can only become a high-skilled, high-wage economy by putting education at the heart of a levelling up economic strategy. We cannot short-change the nation’s talent base if we’re to move beyond the lofty rhetoric of levelling up to practical delivery on the ground.

Elsewhere, we have to provide the seed funding and mentoring for a new generation of young entrepreneurs to set up new businesses – some of the most successful companies start during the depths of an economic downturn.

Let’s make sure that young people with the smartest ideas aren’t held back purely because they can’t find the start up cash to put behind it. And again, let’s target that support to the people and communities that are least likely to have those chances otherwise.

There’s another big shift that any levelling up growth strategy needs for people already in work on how businesses themselves use the talent they already have in their organisations.

One promise we must make to all workers in Britain is that there will be an end to dead-end jobs. In today’s gig economy and beyond, too many jobs pay a wage but offer nothing else for their employees’ future. We all deserve the chance to develop ourselves if we choose.

Whatever the role, whatever the company, there must be a route to progress your career and earnings. Every business in Britain should be able to demonstrate that someone in the lowest paid role they recruit can make their way through that business, with support and development, to go from the entry level right up to the board level and highest paid role of Chief Executive.

All this takes time to deliver, yet we have no time to waste. As the Office for Budget Responsibility set out this 
week, emergency short term measures have put this country deeper into debt than for many years.

The only way we’ll deal with that debt is to have a thriving, modern economy that has all parts of our country and all people in our country able to play their part. It’s why levelling up matters so much.

This great country of ours can thrive in the 21st century. In the teeth of our difficulties we can rebuild a better, fairer version of Britain. We can level up. But it’s going to take a proper plan, and every day we waste without one is a day lost before our reinvention can begin.

September is when the Chancellor’s next big moment is planned, but with four months since lockdown began and still another two months to go, it seems far too long to wait.

Justine Greening is a former Education Secretary. She was born in Rotherham and heads the Social Mobility Pledge.

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