Driving up employment, wages and skills for people in all six boroughs in the Liverpool City Region must be the number one priority for the new metro mayor elected in May, according to the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).
In its briefing for the candidates standing in May's elections, JRF says the new post gives Liverpool an opportunity to deliver inclusive growth that benefits everyone living in the city region.
Liverpool City Region has enjoyed an economic and social revival in recent years, and the new mayor could lead the way on ensuring all places thrive.
But there remain significant challenges to creating an inclusive economy: almost 330,000 people are income deprived and more than one in four children lives in poverty.
Analysis by JRF found significant disparities between the areas in the city region:
- Employment across the city region stands at 67.7 per cent, behind the national average of 74.1. It falls as low as 63.2 per cent per cent in Liverpool, compared to 73.7 per cent in Halton.
- Median full-time weekly wages are £40 a week lower in the City Region (£504) than they are nationally (£545), and there is considerable variation: from a median of £526 for people living in the Wirral to £475 in Knowsley.
- Liverpool City Region has a much higher proportion of entirely workless households compared to England (22.5 per cent and 14.9 per cent respectively). The rate of economic inactivity among the working-age population is also high, and ranges from 23 per cent in Halton to 32 per cent in Liverpool City.
In 2015, 53 per cent of children in Liverpool City Region achieved five good GCSEs including English and Maths, but among children eligible for free school meals the figure is just 29 per cent and falls as low as 21 per cent in Knowsley.
To deliver inclusive growth, JRF recommends the mayor:
- Create the conditions for more and better jobs. Liverpool City Region has identified seven sectors with significant growth potential. The mayor can use their business and support skills powers to address issues such as skills shortages or high staff turnover and connect people in poverty to job opportunities in growing sectors. The mayor must also ensure low-paid sectors such as retail and care are supported to boost productivity and wages, working with businesses and industry bodies.
- Close the education attainment gap – work with local education authorities and the Regional Schools Commissioner to focus on using evidence effectively and schools supporting one another to improve attainment among children from low income backgrounds. Over time there may be a case for the powers of the Regional Schools Commissioner to transfer to the mayor.
- Focus on access and quality in apprenticeships – Liverpool City Region has devolved responsibility for the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers, and has trialled changing the incentives to prioritise younger age groups and higher qualification levels. The quality of apprenticeships remains a challenge in some areas. The Mayor could work with learners, businesses and training providers to develop an Apprenticeship Charter setting out quality standards. Pushing for powers over the apprenticeship levy would enable the mayor to ensure apprenticeships are focused on delivering better employment and earning outcomes.
- Use their influence by making inclusive growth an explicit aim of their time in office. In the mayor's first 100 days, their first actions should be to:
- Create a cabinet position with responsibility for Inclusive Growth, integrating social and economic policy.
- Set ambitious targets to focus action on the employment rate, and boosting educational attainment from the early years to adult skills.
- Convene stakeholders across business, economic development, employment and skills providers, education and early years providers, other public service providers and civil society to develop a city-region wider strategy for inclusive growth and solving poverty.
Katie Schmuecker, head of policy at JRF, said: "Creating more and better jobs, and connecting people in poverty to these opportunities, must be at the heart of an inclusive growth agenda – and this should be the number one priority for the mayor when they take office in May.
"Economic growth in Liverpool city region increased 8.4 per cent in the five years to 2014, and it has the second highest rate of high growth firms in the country. The labour market increasingly requires workers to be more highly skilled and adaptable, meaning access to training and re-training throughout working life will only become more important.
"Making sure everyone, wherever they live in the Liverpool city region, is equipped with the skills and support to find and then get on in work will be crucial for the new mayor if everyone is to share the benefits of economic growth."
* Read the JRF briefing here
* Joseph Rowntree Foundation https://www.jrf.org.uk/