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First West Midlands mayor urged to tackle ‘huge task’ of unemployment

Unemployment in the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) region is higher than average and should be the top priority of the region’s first elected mayor, the Resolution Foundation argued in a new report.

The region has an employment rate of 64.5% compared to the 71% average for other city-regions, and is the only city-region whose employment rate has failed to recover following the 2011 financial crisis. Birmingham in particular has one of the lowest employment rates, with just 60.9% of the population being in work.

Its employment rate has been below the national average since the 1980s, due to the decline in manufacturing.

Residents who have few qualifications or who are from an ethnic minority, disabled or single parents are also one-third less likely to be employed.

Conor D’Arcy, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The West Midlands’ terrible record on job creation has created a huge employment blackspot and was a key factor behind its overwhelming vote to leave the EU.”

The West Midlands had a higher rate of votes to leave in the EU Referendum than any other region.

The think tank’s report also described the region’s productivity as “a source of real concern”. It is one of the lowest rates in the country at a time when productivity as a whole is “desperately disappointing”.

The region had a weaker rate of wage growth between 1997 and 2009 than other city-region, and the median hourly wage has fallen to £12, a similar rate to that in 2000.

Management jobs make up a smaller part of the workforce than they did in 2008, and the highest growing industry is ‘employment activities’, primarily employment agencies.

“Turning the city-region’s economic prospects around will be a huge task facing the new mayor, and they should have the full backing of central government too,” D’Arcy added.

“Whitehall should recalibrate its flagship Midlands Engine project to supporting the new mayor in overseeing a long overdue jobs boom across the West Midlands.”

The WMCA is due to hold its first mayoral elections in May 2017 after signing a £1bn devolution deal, the biggest so far.

The foundation’s recommendations for boosting jobs in the West Midlands included an employment strategy that specifically targets groups that are currently excluded from employment, as well as growing the knowledge economy instead of just providing more manufacturing jobs and increasing the educational achievements of residents.

D’Arcy argued that previous governments had ignored the West Midlands in favour of London and Manchester, and that the region should be “the focus of a national renaissance for Britain’s major cities”.

(Image c. Steve N)

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