Birmingham City Council leader Councillor Ian Ward today called for a West Midlands Jobs Task Force, insisting: "People across Birmingham and the wider region are facing a jobs crisis unless there is clear action. We cannot continue this sleepwalk to mass unemployment".
Councillor Ward's call was immediately supported by former Minister for the West Midlands, Liam Byrne, the Member of Parliament for Hodge Hill Birmingham, who believed it was time for government, civic leaders and industry to wake up.
The call comes as analysis by thinktank Centre for Cities highlighted the Birmingham economy as one of those hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Figures released last week showed that unemployment across the city increased by 2,260 to 81,525 in August, with 67 of the city’s 69 wards recording increases.
Across the West Midlands, the total claiming unemployment benefits was up 5,075 for the region from July to 271,905, with the Institute of Chartered Accountants warning that the tradition of manufacturing makes the region more vulnerable to unemployment following the coronavirus crisis.
Now, with forecasters predicting an even steeper rise in unemployment once the furlough scheme draws to a close next month, Cllr Ward is calling on the regional mayor Conservative Andy Street, who has responsibility and funding for jobs and skills across the West Midlands, to take action before more damage is done.
Ian Ward wants the task force to have a range of partners including the Department for Work and Pension, councils, Chambers of Commerce, BIDS, Growth Hubs and Education and Skills providers, he said: "Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on our economy and now, the Chancellor’s one-size-fits-all withdrawal of furlough risks creating a jobs squeeze that will put people’s livelihoods at risk.
"In Birmingham, the vast majority of businesses have seen a collapse in revenues, are suffering serious cashflow problems, have let staff go or even closed completely. We're already starting to see unemployment increasing across the City and sadly it's inevitable that the situation will get worse when the furlough scheme ends.
"We need action from the mayor now to protect as many jobs as possible across the region and to help those that unfortunately lose their jobs secure new employment and training opportunities."
The call has been echoed by Shadow West Midlands Mayor Liam Byrne, who said "I'm appalled that neither the government nor their conservative regional mayor have woken up to what is happening across our region. Thousands of people are being laid off as furlough comes to an end. It is impacting every sector from hospitality and the arts, right through to manufacturing and green technology. We need a task force, and we need it now.
"Tony Blair and Gordon Brown showed how a dedicated and committed task force can make a real difference to people's lives when Rover faced a massive crisis fifteen years ago. What we face now is far bigger than that and needs a proportionate response. It is time to wake up, not to sleep walk!"