TUC publishes plan to protect West Midlands from mass unemployment and build back better

A new TUC report ‘A better recovery for the West Midlands’ sets out a plan to prevent mass unemployment following the pandemic, with secure jobs and decent pay for working families.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary launched the report at a roundtable event with trade union leaders. The Labour candidate for the West Midlands’ metro mayor, Liam Byrne, respond to the report at the launch.

The TUC warns that there is a high risk of mass unemployment in the West Midlands without a recovery plan centred on protecting and creating jobs, backed by major investment.

Workers who have required support from the job retention scheme and self-employed income support scheme are most likely to face unemployment risks in the months ahead.

In the West Midlands, TUC analysis estimates that at least 882,000 workers (32% of the workforce) have required support from these schemes.

On top of these figures, there will be many other people who have been laid off, or who entered the employment market during the crisis, and have been unable to find work.

And the union body says economic uncertainty will affect all industries, so there will be pressure on the jobs of many workers who have not been furloughed too.

The pandemic alone did not cause the current crisis. It was made worse by a decade of austerity and failure to strengthen the West Midlands economy, says the TUC.

Choosing the wrong approach now risks embedding low growth, long-term unemployment and all the social ills that go alongside.

The report recommends an approach based on recently published TUC research (see notes), which found that the fastest recoveries from economic crises in UK history were based on investment for growth.

An investment for growth approach must be resourced by central government, and will need action at regional level in three key areas:

1. Investing in jobs: Combined authorities, local councils and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) should work in partnership to:

Secure investment for local infrastructure needs
Leverage public sector spending to support local jobs and enterprise
Develop a regional-level green industrial strategy that builds on the region’s strengths to meet climate targets

2. Decent work and a new way of doing business: Combined authorities, local councils and LEP’s should attach conditions to commissioning and procurement that will improve job quality, strengthen worker voice, increase training opportunities and tackle discrimination and disadvantage in the workplace.

3. Rebuilding public services: Combined Authorities and local authorities should adopt a policy of managing all services in-house by default, so they can raise employment and delivery standards, and strengthen the resilience of essential services such as social care.

These priorities complement the national priorities that we have already published in the TUC’s national recovery plan.

The report calls for the formation of a West Midlands recovery panel with representation from unions, employers, Job Centre Plus, relevant civic partners and local and regional government.

Regional panels would work in tandem with a UK National Recovery Panel to turn headline objectives into tailored strategies for each region.

The TUC says that regional structures with devolved powers are essential to achieving the best recovery possible, because the nature and scale of the challenge varies greatly across different parts of the UK.

The West Midlands’ strong manufacturing base and links to academic institutions places it in an ideal position to lead a green manufacturing revolution.
The report identifies the need for investment in:

A green housebuilding programme and extensive retrofitting to deliver the housing needs of the region and enable the region to be at the forefront of green construction
Green transport infrastructure. Presently there are more electric car charging points in Westminster than the West Midlands
Clean technology: Bring local authorities together through progressive planning polices to support the supply of clean energy. And to build links with academic institutions to support the development of green cluster
Further Education: To make the FE sector more accessible for working people and ensure the sector is meeting the needs of businesses and residents.  

Both the regional and national bodies should have worker representation so that workers’ voices are at the heart of decision-making for recovery plans.

TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “People are very worried about their jobs. Many have been laid off already. Losing your job is a dreadful experience – devastating for families. And if we allow mass unemployment to take hold, our economy will be smaller, and the recovery from the pandemic will be slower.

“That’s why good jobs are at the heart of our recovery plan for the West Midlands. Jobs in a reborn manufacturing sector. Jobs in the green tech we need to safeguard our future. Jobs in a revitalised transport system.

“And we must value our public services in the West Midlands too. Key workers kept us going through the crisis. But after ten years of cuts, it was much harder for them than it should have been. It’s time to rebuild local public services for the future.

“This week, we’re asking the Chancellor to put his faith in people in the West Midlands and across the UK with big and bold investment. If he backs us in this way, we can avoid mass unemployment, work our way to recovery and build back better.”

Lee Barron, TUC Midlands Regional Secretary, said: “The TUC supports the WCMA’s recovery plan as an additional first step. But this can only be a starting point.

“We now want to build upon this to deliver a genuinely world class economy that works for all working people.  This report gives us the roadmap to build back better.”

Liam Byrne, Labour Shadow WMCA Mayor, said: “We stand on a precipice. The jewel in the crown of British manufacturing is now at risk, which thousands of good manufacturing jobs in jeopardy. Yet government’s plan for ‘build, build, build’ in the West Midlands announced last week came to the grand total of 50p per person a week. That is frankly too little, too late.

“We need ministers to think again and this report shows how. It’s a not only a plan for real help now to save manufacturing, it’s a blue print for how our region, the home of the industrial revolution can become the Britain’s Green Manufacturing Capital’