Regeneration is about skills not just buildings

This evening, Paul Swinney, an economist at the Centre for Cities was interviewed on the BBC local news and assessed the impact of Regeneration Projects in places like Hull over the past few years. Swinney highlighted successes such as the Lottery Funded Submarium The Deep; the KC Stadium that was funded out of the sale of shares in the Council owned Telephone company and the St Stephens Shopping Mall. Then, accepting that these projects had made a positive impact he made it clear that this is not enough to build sustainable growth. In fact, the failure of the regeneration project has been its exaggerated focus on the built environment and a near total lack of focus on skills. Hull is not alone.

The Centre for Cities published a Report “Cities Outlook 2012” in January 2012. It is their fifth annual index of UK Cities providing a detailed account of how cities are coping against the backdrop of sluggish national economy. First, the Report highlights unemployment as an urban issue and second, there is a significant variation in the scale and nature of unemployment in each urban area. Cambridge has the lowest number of job seekers of all cities at 1.8 percent in November 2011. Hull, on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the scale – 8 percent of its working age population claimed Jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) last November. And this static picture only tells part of the story – the gap between the claimant count rates of the two cities has doubled since the onset of the recession, increasing from 3.1 percentage points in February 2008 to 6.2 percentage points in November 2011.

Similar patterns are also seen for youth and long term job seekers. Around one in ten young people claim Jobseeker’s Allowance in Grimsby compared to less than one in 30 in York. And there are over 32,000 young people claiming JSA in Birmingham – enough to fill Birmingham City FC’s St Andrews Stadium.

Hull has by far the highest proportion of long term claimants – two percent of the city’s working age population has been on Jobseekers’ Allowance for over one year. This is much higher than in second placed Birmingham (1.6 percent) or third placed Liverpool (1.3 percent). And it is way above the rate in bottom placed Bournemouth, where 0.3 percent of residents are claiming JSA.

Thirdly, even for cities with high numbers of people out of work, the composition of job seekers varies from city to city. In Swansea, young people make up a much higher percentage of the overall number of those claiming this benefit than most other cities – 34 percent of all job seekers in the city are aged under 25, compared to 28 percent in Glasgow. Meanwhile 24 percent of all job seekers in Glasgow have been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than one year, while this figure is 11 percent for Swansea.

The facts and figures argue for strategies that address local issues and argue against any notion that one-size-fits all. In Swansea, the issue is youth unemployment; in Hull it is vulnerability to core industries like caravans – not helped by the taxation shifts in the 2012 budget that could trigger a 30 per cent decline in demand and even more unemployment. Then, there are places like Glasgow with chronic long term unemployment. The Peabody Trust in the 1930s warned Policy makers back then that the unemployed were not like something put in a fridge to be taken out when needed. Areas need to be prepared to invest in their skills base to ensure that skills are not lost.

There is another perspective. They say that over 50 per cent of the jobs of the future have yet to be invented. In this context, more effort is needed to innovate and, build the industries that will offer jobs to future generations. On the Humber, there is a huge opportunity to build a significant jobs momentum with renewable energy; in particular the 10,000 wind turbines to be built offshore will be served by an eco-system of multi-nationals and SMEs. Why not build an iconic centre for Skills of the Future in a place like Hull harnessing new technologies such as digital media in an exciting environment to experience the world of work and the skills of the future. This would fill a building with real purpose – just like Surface Architect’s Endike Primary School project in Hull that blends learning, aspiration, local community context and architecture in a challenging but fully integrated way.

Swinneys observation that regeneration has not done enough on skills is hugely significant   as is the point that each region has a different skills agenda. The Regeneration focus of the recent past did a lot to transform the built environment but, without greater emphasis on upgrading skills in line with the global competitive challenge and developing skills for the future the built environment may become a legacy that reminds us of a better yesterday rather than as a platform for sustainable growth. A built-up skyline does not mean a bright horizon in terms of jobs – unless the buildings are filled with purpose.




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One Response to Regeneration is about skills not just buildings

  1. rjb says:

    This focus on buildings that both reflect and shape a local community has a history with projects like Covent Garden in the 1970s and now, with Kings Cross and St Pancras right now. Covent Garden could have been razed to the ground had it not been for local activism and the creation of a neighbourhood focused on the media and tourism that is reflected and inspired by its surroundings. As Henry Porter makes plain [Observer, 25.03.12] the newly opened King’s Cross, like St Pancras, is a wonder which defies a Regeneration philosophy based on structures, high finance and profit by shaping an area that reflects people, public spaces, affordable housing and, with Google and others basing themselves there, as a place to work.

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