Cabinet Member – Councillor Gareth Thomas
To consider a report on the above.
To accept the report, noting the observations made during the meeting.
The Cabinet Member and officers from the Economy and Community Department were welcomed to the meeting.
The report of the Cabinet Member for Economy and Community was submitted, at the request of the scrutiny committee, outlining the changes in unemployment and what support the Council offered to the people of Gwynedd.
Members were given an opportunity to ask questions and offer observations.
Individual members submitted the following observations:-
· Concern was expressed that so many of the county's young people left every year, there was also concern that the statistics presented to the committee could not be relied upon as there was so much outward migration. The Welsh Government had a target to get a million Welsh-speakers by 2050, and if these plans were dependent on a grant from the Government, there was an opportunity here to resolve past outward migration, particularly due to the county's demography and the importance of the Welsh language in the county, by informing the Government what could be done to strengthen the Welsh-speaking areas and to try and prevent outward migration.
· The importance of looking at future employment needs was emphasised to ensure that those young people currently going through the education system possessed the required skills for the jobs that would be available at the end of their time in education. Concern was expressed that young people in rural areas such as Pen Llŷn had to travel far to attend college courses. It was also noted that there were people with different expertise who may be in a position to provide training to local people to assist them to get work, and it was suggested that these people should be targeted.
· It was noted that the jobs/housing situation in the county was a vicious circle. Jobs were needed, however, to attract good employers, housing was needed. There was a lack of housing, however, houses could not be built in the hope of attracting employers. It was noted that Brighter Foods in Tywyn were anxious to expand significantly as a result of receiving an investment of £42m, however, they were having difficulty to attract staff due to the lack of housing in the area. It was added that south Meirionnydd had seriously suffered since the demise of the Development Board for Rural Wales some years ago. Reference was also made to a farm shop, that was eager to expand and relocate to an empty unit on Tywyn High Street, but could not get planning approval for this, it was suggested that the Council should relax the planning restrictions and encourage more house building in the area.
· Concern was expressed that recruitment campaigns in several sectors, such as care, hospitality, school assistants and the Health Board's vaccination programme, were all fishing in the same pool, and success in one sector may be at the expense of the rest.
· It was noted that there was an opportunity here for a career pathway for people who came to work for the Council, particularly in the care sector, however, the report did not address this.
In response to the observations and questions from members, it was noted:-
· That the Department had a programme to create high value jobs, with the aim of creating quality jobs in Gwynedd to keep our young people here. However, some of the Government's decisions, especially the recent decision not to proceed with the Llanbedr bypass scheme, had been a major blow to the area, and meant that it would be very difficult to get companies to invest in the Aerospace Centre in the future. It was obvious that the Government was turning its back on the rural areas with everything focused in the towns and cities.
· There were a few comments in the Independent Panel's report that caused concern, such as the comment that work should be directed to the growth areas identified in the Regional Development Framework, as Gwynedd was not one of those areas. Naturally, young people wanted the experience of going away to different places to get different experiences, however, it was important that we can create opportunities for them to be able to return to the county. Gwynedd's economic weakness was the lack of variety of jobs, and the aim of the effort at Llanbedr, and also Trawsfynydd, was to get that variety that would enable families to remain in the area. The fact that there was a political agreement to establish the Arfor Programme for a further period was welcomed, and it was hoped that it would be possible to influence this programme to concentrate on retaining work in rural communities to maintain services.
· In terms of supporting hospitality and tourism, the huge increase in the number of visitors to the area last summer was noted, as fewer people went abroad on holiday, this had caused problems for the industry and for the society that supported the industry. A hope was expressed that the joint work with the National Park to develop a sustainable visitor economy would support the industry, and reference was made to a recent conference about this. It was further noted that workshops would take place in January, with the aim of drafting an action programme by March.
· The situation over the last 18 months had sped-up the need to create, not only more jobs, but better jobs. The Department supported businesses, alongside supporting people to get those jobs, and the Gwynedd Work Team had been working diligently on some interventions that would facilitate this, e.g. by supporting people who were already in jobs to move on to better-paid jobs, etc., and by so doing create opportunities for people who were returning to work, or were coming to work for the first time. In addition, the Department led the STEM Programme in North Wales on behalf of Gwynedd, Anglesey and Conwy councils. The Department had also developed its relationship with the Education Department considerably during this last period and a piece of work was currently ongoing looking at employers' needs, and how to highlight these to children while they were still at school. Next year, namely the last year of the Council Plan 2018-23, would be a period to review and take stock, looking at the needs in terms of the economy and the people of Gwynedd in moving forward.
· There was much more data available than was in the report. The third graph in Appendix 1 of the report indicated the unemployment pattern over the last three years (stable in 2019, a huge jump in 2020 and a reduction in 2021) and it was noted that the source of information could be sent to members to be able to see this type of information in greater detail. It was further noted that the Gwynedd Work Team was working closely with the Council's Care Team, not only to attract people to want to work in the field and helping them to get the necessary skills, but also to assist the care sector to think how they packaged the work, to attract more people. It was further noted that a jobs noticeboard had been created to analyse where job opportunities arose across the county, and in which sectors, the Team was also analysing to which sectors those people supported into jobs had gone, to see if this corresponded to employers' needs. It was noted, since the beginning of April, approximately 40% of the 150 persons supported into work had gone into the tourism and hospitality sector, with approximately 8% to the care sector. It was also noted, since preparing the report, the number of supported persons had now increased from 150 to 170. It was added that the Team continued to work with the Care Staff Development Team to try to attract more people into this field, and one work-stream looked specifically on using transferable skills to support the care sector over the winter, e.g. employing caravan cleaning seasonal staff to undertake domestic care work over the winter.
· The challenge of underemployment, or people who would wish, or were able to undertake more in terms of work, but did not have the opportunity, was one of the challenges in terms of increasing income for families, and also in terms of satisfying the needs that businesses and other sectors had. Work was being undertaken in marketing and advertising to assist people who wished to improve their capacity to work, and this was via a helpline and social media, etc., however, changing the situation would take time. It was also a fairly on-going process of looking at the different working patterns. The Gwynedd Work Team had undertaken a piece of work to look at the possibility that companies could employ seasonal staff throughout the year by spreading the salary over 12 months, rather than only pay during the summer months. The options in terms of jobs that could work side by side were looked at and an employment noticeboard had been created on Facebook to respond quickly to employers' needs. Information was also shared via the Council's Benefits Team, food banks and CAB.
· Work had proceeded between the Human Resources Service and the Gwynedd Work Team to look at career pathways within the Council.
· There was more information to come regarding the Shared Prosperity Fund. Details were awaited regarding the application process during the summer, however, there was no certainty that there would not be a gap with this. The Government was also looking at bridging by continuing and extending some of the programmes over a period of time.
RESOLVED to accept the report, noting the observations made during the meeting.