Robert Largan is the MP for High Peak
When I was elected last year, I fully expected my priority to be getting more infrastructure built in the North. The Conservatives won a mandate to do just that, to fundamentally reshape our economy. Coronavirus has made this task more urgent than ever before.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been leading an innovative and nimble response from the Treasury. On top of ground-breaking schemes like the Job Retention Scheme to mitigate the economic impact of Coronavirus, we have seen the launch of an ambitious project to rebuild this country over the next decade.
Building up our infrastructure is about more than funding. It is about backing British industry and workers. As I pointed out in the chamber following the Chancellor’s statement, the Government has to get it right on the nuts and bolts of delivery.
The Government has proven it is willing to put in the investment we need to get building again and improve the planning system so we can build faster. However, we need the skills to get people to do the building.
According to last year’s Engineering Construction Industry Labour Market Outlook report, 81 per cent of employers said that applicants did not have the required skills or expertise. Over half of employers identified the ageing and retiring workforce as the main cause of the skills gap in their industry. There is a clear need to train young people and retrain older people to grow the workforce we need to get building again.
The skills gap across the board has been holding us back for decades. It has made our economy less productive than our competitors and denied opportunities to people across our towns and regions. Without bold action, this problem will get worse. The Industrial Strategy Council estimates that 20 per cent of the workforce will be under-skilled by 2030. Instead of oversaturating our labour market with graduates, we should be boosting apprenticeships, training and retraining, and vocational and technical education.
Under Conservative-led Governments since 2010, we have seen many promising policies to invest in skills. It was good to see the Chancellor build on this progress with extra funding for subsidised jobs for young people, apprenticeships, and training schemes in the Summer Economic Update. What has been lacking, so far, is a strategic approach towards investing in our workforce.
When the Chancellor fleshes out his plan to rebuild this autumn, he should put forward a National Skills Strategy. Investment in skills needs to be well-targeted, particularly towards the industries that will get infrastructure built. This will help tie together the Government’s approach towards promoting the skills we need to maximise opportunities for job creation.
Thanks to the introduction of the Industrial Strategy, we have seen a series of Sector Deals directing investment towards the industries of the future. The same principle can be applied to skills by discussing with specific industries how to turbo-charge support for their workforce so they can grow and recruit. Infrastructure is the best place to start.
After a decade of political upheaval, the country is ready for a decade of renewal. Rebuilding our infrastructure and investing in our workers will deliver that renewal. It is about time that we followed the example of FDR’s New Deal and prove exactly how much good government is capable of achieving.