CALLS were made for more green jobs, gigafactories and cutting red tape for the Government’s young people Kickstart scheme when Labour’s West Midlands Mayoral candidate Liam Byrne held a roundtable event for the region’s businesses.
Also present was the party’s Shadow Chancellor Annaliese Dodds who expressed concerns about the impact Covid-19 was having on the West Midlands economy.
“It has been hit a lot harder than the other regions and we need a clear plan for the area.
“We need to link the industrial past here with a new high tech future which will make the West Midlands the green heart of the country.”
On the Kickstart Scheme, Ms Dodds added: “The Cabinet Office has a very good track record but is taking a very long time to process Kickstart placements.
“There are so many businesses which want to take part so things need to be done to unblock the scheme.
“Currently the Kickstart scheme is only helping one in every 100 young people who have been unemployed long-term.”
She said local authorities, employers and further education colleges needed to be brought together to deliver and the time needed to apply for licences and start placements needed to be cut dramatically.
Mr Byrne said: “We cannot be a good place for young people to live in if we don’t offer them the right opportunities.”
On gigafactories he said: “There is one planned near Coventry but we need five or six of them, especially now the Government has mapped out a timescale for getting rid of combustion engines.
“140,000 jobs across the region are dependent on the automotive industry and our region is at the centre.
“Unless we get our skates on the automotive industry will leave the UK.
“Countries like France and Germany, have invested more heavily and there are 16 gigafactories already planned across Europe.
“We need to make the West Midlands the green workshop of the country.”
Concerns were also expressed about the levels of support available to keep companies afloat until they could reopen and start trading again.
Among the ideas mooted were more long-term version of the furlough scheme and business rate breaks.
Henrietta Brealey from the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce said: “With the vaccine roll-out, Coventry’s year as the UK City of Culture and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games there are some bright sparks coming but we need the support to get us there.
“We know sectors will be able to reopen but those events are going to be very different to the way they were originally planned.”
Ms Dodds called for a smarter approach to furlough.
“Many other countries have a training component within their employment support schemes and our furlough scheme was supposed to have one too.
“But hardly any companies know those training portals exist – let alone have used them.
“We also need more effective action surrounding jobs creation – we need to look at what is needed and decide what to deliver – that’s nowhere near good enough at the moment.”
Mr Byrne also criticised the Government for its policy on cutting carbon emissions.
“We are cutting carbon by 13 per cent every year which means we will meet the carbon zero target by 2041.
“I want to raise that to 16 per cent which means we would hit the target in the late 2020s or 2030s.
Ms Dodds said there were also a number of housing challenges and there should be more ‘retrofitting’ programmes to make older homes more energy efficient.
“This will help create jobs and make a big difference to people’s lives, including children, by reducing energy bills.”
She also hit out at Chancellor Rishi Sunak for delaying decisions on items, such as employment support schemes, until the budget in early March.
“There are plenty of things which could be done now and that is what we are calling for – we need immediate action.”