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Social infrastructure investment is critical for building confidence
12 November 2020
With London and the rest of the country entering a new lockdown, the government has reacted to support businesses and people through this very challenging period. The evolving pandemic and its effects necessitates urgent short-term action from government at national and devolved levels. However, alongside day-to-day management, government must set out a clear recoveryplan for the national economy and a strategy to deliver it. This strategy must embrace both the structural changes to our way of working and living accelerated by Covid-19, and the wider changes brought about by the digital and green revolutions.
The challenge is made more difficult by this year’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) moving to a one-year settlement, ahead of a multi-year settlement next year. Though understandable in the uncertain circumstances we find ourselves, it risks privileging a short-term ‘holding response’ over a strategic one. It is vital for the capital, and the rest of the country, that the imminentCSR does not just focus on the short-term but on how we recover from, and adapt to, the pandemic’s longer-term social and economic impacts. A long-term plan, backed by the CSR,would give confidence to businesses and individuals to invest in the future rather than hunker down. Equally, to build the confidence critical to unlocking investment we need an emphasis on social infrastructure investment, complementing many of the physical infrastructure announcements already made.
What do I mean by ‘social infrastructure’? I mean adult education, careers advice for young people, especially those not in education or employment or training (NEET), employability support, community spaces and community mental health initiatives. I mean the opening of ‘common’ spaces and ‘common’ services which support people to participate. Investing in people, through people centred services, is the essential ingredient to building London as a fairer and more resilient economy with good work opportunities and health at its heart.
Pre-Covid Shaw Trust already had an extensive social infrastructure delivery footprint around London, reaching out beyond zone one’s employment hubs to the city’s vibrant boroughs. Our services span advice, information and guidance for young people at risk of becoming or currently NEET, learning and skills provision, employability support for the West London Alliance of councils and community mental health. From this frontline delivery experience in London, we are acutely aware of the need to invest in the capital’s educational, employment support and skills provision. This is a critical investment if we are to deliver a skilled, upskilled and re-skilled workforce for the new London economy.
As the Centre for Progressive Policy has illustrated in their recent programme of work, investment in social infrastructure plays a vital role in increasing the “health and skill levels of more deprived sections of the population and reducing place-based inequalities in line with the government’s levelling up agenda,” as well as offering good value for money and significant productivity returns.
Against this backdrop, London First’s forthcoming Skills Summit could not be more timely given that the economic and learning impacts of the pandemic have been strongly felt in the capital. A report by the Social Market Foundation shows places facing the worst economic shock from the pandemic are mostly in London and the South East. Job postings in the capital are down ‑51.9% on last year’s trend. The four areas with the highest number of unemployed people per vacancy in the UK are reported to be London boroughs, with more than forty claimants chasing each available job and more than a third of all areas in the UK with thirty or more claimants-per-vacancy are London Boroughs. What’s more, inequality is far higher within London than in any other part of the UK.
It is for these reasons I am calling for aCSRfocused on investing in social infrastructure, particularly for learners, job seekers and workers hit hardest by the pandemic.
Like many of our fellow London First members, we have set out our response to the Treasury’s recent public consultation and I’m keen to discuss it with anyone who would like to get in touch. One of the core asks is for the government to urgently publish details of how the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) will be designed and implemented. We are concerned about the current lack of clarity around the UKSPFroadmap for implementation and assurance. The UKSPF will replace the European Social Fund, which covers statutory provision for some of the most disadvantaged people in our communities. We would welcome the support of London First’s members in backing our call to government on this vital issue for London.
Shaw Trust is growing to meet the needs of London, ensuring we can support those hardest hit by the economic impacts of the pandemic by giving more Londoners access to skills and employment support. If you would like to discuss our CSR submission, how to work with us or share your ideas on how Londoners can be best supported at this very challenging time, please contact me.
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