In setting up the Working Neighbourhood Fund (WNF), the Government was very clear that the money was not restricted to being spent on specific issues but can be used flexibly to respond to local priorities.
Local authority areas can use their knowledge to tailor plans to address issues such as unemployment, supporting neighbourhoods and, more recently, combating the recession.
While unemployment is without question a challenge for Birmingham, we must recognise that finding jobs for individuals is just part of the answer, and we must tackle the underlying problems if we are to develop long-term solutions that improve the quality of life for all.
Our approach, therefore, is focused on working with local communities to identify the underlying issues which contribute to long term unemployment and poverty in the first place.
This means that tackling barriers to employment such as poor health, low skills, poor housing, lack of childcare and restricted access to public services, ensuring those communities in the greatest need will receive the greatest help.
This doesn’t mean we are not providing money directly to projects which seek to create jobs – we are!
Over £100 million is currently being invested by partners across the city on this whole agenda through projects such as the Future Jobs Fund, which is creating 1,700 placements in the city.
We share the Government’s concerns about the pace of delivery of WNF, and that is why we conducted our recent review and have put new measures in place to get projects moving.
However, I should point out that we are far from “dragging our feet” and have already allocated 84 per cent (£97 million) of our WNF allocation and are on course to deliver the full programme on time. Our focus now is on delivering on the ground.
With our partners we continue to make the case to government for more resources for our city. Birmingham’s allocation of WNF funding, which is the equivalent of £38.82 per head, is significantly short of funding received by others – most notably Manchester where the equivalent of £64.32 per head was granted to the city.
It is all too easy for others to criticise from the sidelines, but I sincerely believe that our approach of first listening to the needs of our communities, then taking action which addresses their specific needs, is the only way to ensure sustainable support where it is most needed in our city.
Under my watch there will be no “dash for trash” but a considered and responsible allocation of funds targeted where the needs are greatest.
Councillor Paul Tilsley
Chair, Be Birmingham and Deputy Leader, Birmingham City Council