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16 September 2020
The Senedd’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee begins taking evidence into its inquiry on economic recovery this morning. This article is the second of our two articles on this topic, covering people, places and inequalities. Our previous article, published yesterday, looks at businesses, infrastructure and a green recovery.
The Welsh Government has announced a £50 million support package for universities, colleges and students and another £40 million to support people into work, education, training or apprenticeships.
In July the UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP, announced a Kickstart Scheme which “will directly pay employers to create new jobs for any 16 to 24 year old at risk of long-term unemployment”. Businesses in Wales, England and Scotland are eligible to apply to the scheme, and can register for it via the UK Government’s website.
Following a number of roundtable discussions as part of the Welsh Government’s work on coronavirus recovery, the Wales Centre for Public Policy published key issues arising from these discussions, including a number that focus on skills. Participants in the round tables suggested:
- Reskilling and retraining people to equip them with the skills needed to promote a green economy. The Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates MS, told the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in July that “there are some significant opportunities, particularly in terms of green growth”.
- The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales could “facilitate regional partnerships between universities, local authorities and businesses to provide skills-oriented training programmes”. It was also proposed that universities with spare capacity could be encouraged to develop online courses and invest in remote learning to provide new opportunities to those who find it difficult to attend campuses, for example people with disabilities or caring responsibilities.
- Apprenticeships “have the potential to be an important mechanism for supporting skill development and labour market recovery”. They can enable workers to move into sectors such as health and social care and technology.
The future of work
The Welsh Government has said that it “aims to see around 30% of the workforce to work remotely on a regular basis”. It is also “exploring how a network of community-based remote working hubs, within walking or cycling distance of many people’s homes could be created in communities across Wales”.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Wales has suggested that remote working should be incentivised where employees wish to do this. Chwarae Teg calls for infrastructure to support home-working to be strengthened, such as appropriate IT and broadband. The Wales Centre for Public Policy has highlighted that those who participated in the Welsh Government roundtables stated that continued home working will help to reduce carbon emissions, and could help to widen labour market participation. However, it also identifies that the challenges home working creates for some groups also need to be considered, such as stress and social isolation. Participants proposed providing community hubs to enable more people to work closer to home, while the Bevan Foundation suggests relocating workplaces closer to homes.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Wales calls for the flexible working practices that have developed over lockdown to be retained by the Welsh Government and employers across Wales, as it considers these have proven beneficial to both workers and employers over recent months.
The Future Generations Commissioner considers that piloting a four day working week should be explored, and that the Welsh Government should explore evidence from New Zealand and Germany. However, CBI Wales takes the view that there is not enough evidence to support moving to a four day working week, as it is not clear whether moving to shorter working hours would increase productivity.
Professor Ewart Keep of Oxford University told the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee in June that fair work and job quality are particular challenges facing the Welsh Government, stating that:
One of the things that really worries me is the impact on job quality, and that has a skills component, because I can see a lot of employers looking at the labour market and thinking, ‘Well, things are very uncertain—I want more labour by the hour, I want more precarious, insecure, zero-hours contracts, because that actually financially will suit me.’ But that’s the kind of employment contract that almost guarantees that learning and structured learning opportunities will not be available to those staff.
The First Minister has said that the Welsh Government needs to ensure that key workers continue to be seen as equally important after the crisis as they are now, and should be rewarded sufficiently. The Welsh Government has provided a one-off payment of £500 to social care workers, and plans to top up wages of social care workers if they are required to self-isolate.
The Bevan Foundation suggests that the Welsh Government takes a number of steps to support the workforce through providing fairer work, including
- Creating a job or learning opportunity for all adults of working age; and
- Extending the economic contract, monitoring and enforcing stronger employer commitments around pay, sick pay and flexible work.
Wales Trades Union Congress (TUC) has highlighted its view that new jobs created should meet the fair work characteristics set out in the Fair Work Commission’s report – fair reward; employee voice and collective representation; job security and flexibility; opportunities for access, growth and progression; safe and inclusive workplaces; and respect and implementation of legal rights.
Chwarae Teg has called for increased payment of the voluntary Living Wage, suggesting that payment across the public sector and public procurement would help to address gender inequalities. Unison Cymru has stated that social care workers should receive at least £10 per hour to address “systemic low pay” and in-work poverty.
Reset Cymru calls for the introduction of Universal Basic Income (UBI) to address issues such as poverty, automation, and job losses. Chwarae Teg and the Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales believe that piloting UBI could help to level up access to the labour market. However, as the Bevan Foundation highlight, there are questions around cost, and the Welsh Government does not have the powers to deliver a UBI.
Places across Wales have experienced the economic effects of the pandemic in different ways, and we’ll be setting out the latest data on this in a future article. The Bevan Foundation suggests that Welsh Government investment in economic recovery prioritises rural Wales and the Valleys, as these areas have been most impacted by the pandemic. Industrial Communities Alliance Wales argues that the Valleys have seen a disproportionate impact from the pandemic, and calls for ‘levelling up’ to be:
…at the heart of a radical recovery agenda if it is to address the pre-existing social and economic injustices in poorer communities whilst also laying the foundations for a more resilient and balanced economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.
The National Farmers Union Cymru has called for changes to food and farming policy to help rural Wales to recover economically, including measures to support stability, productivity and the environment. It considers that the role of farming in tourism, food and drink production and sustaining rural communities should be considered in the Welsh Government’s approach to economic recovery.
The Welsh Government has supported town centres through providing funding via the Transforming Towns programme to assist economic recovery by adapting town centre layouts to boost trading and public safety. Additionally, it has funded running costs of Business Improvement Districts during the pandemic to help them to be in a position to promote recovery efforts.
FSB Wales has called for refocussing of Welsh Government funding for town centre regeneration to help reshape towns to play a different role in the recovery, and to allow towns to develop a “vision of their future.” Royal Town Planning Institute Cymru has suggested that integration of services, open space and recreation requires greater attention. The Wales Centre for Public Policy’s write-up of the Welsh Government’s roundtables on recovery noted that participants supported redesigning town centres and streets to promote active travel.
CBI Wales states that previous recessions have exacerbated existing inequalities:
Past recessions show the impact of joblessness is deeply uneven. Without immediate intervention, pre-crisis inequalities across nations, regions, gender and race will worsen.
Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna’s report for the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Covid-19 Expert Advisory Group made a number of recommendations to the Welsh Government around addressing economic inequalities facing BAME workers, including creating a ‘green jobs’ apprenticeship scheme aimed at BAME and young workers, and name-blind recruitment and diverse interview panels. EHRC Wales has stated that the Welsh Government should address the barriers to BAME workers accessing fair, safe and secure work in its forthcoming race equality plan.
Chwarae Teg has called for the Welsh Government to address gender-based economic inequalities through taking a feminist approach to economic recovery, that considers intersections of inequality. Chwarae Teg and WEN Wales’ proposals include investing in and expanding care, diversifying the economy and investing where structural inequalities are addressed, and creating an economic restructuring agency.
The National Deaf Children’s Society considers that the pandemic risks widening the ‘employment gap’ between disabled and non-disabled people, particularly amongst young people, and calls for the Welsh Government to reinstate the duty for Careers Wales to provide specialist advice for young people with additional learning needs, and to ensure that Inclusive Apprenticeships funded by the Welsh Government include targeted support for young deaf people.
You can watch the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee’s meetings on Senedd TV. Once the Committee has finished taking and analysing evidence it will produce a report that makes recommendations to the Welsh Government around economic recovery.
The Welsh Government is developing its strategy for economic reconstruction, and will publish its response to the ideas raised over recent months in the Our Future Wales consultation.
We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.
You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.