Updated: Jul 24, 2019
The Northampton Economy
We can all agree that for Northampton to thrive, we need a healthy local economy. A healthy economy is about full employment but it is more than that. We need to help Northampton change from being a low wage, low aspiration town to its opposite. A town with aspirational well-paid jobs. A town with great apprenticeships on offer. Jobs that provide training. Jobs with career pathways. Jobs that can make use of existing skills and encourages transfer of skills, the flexible use of skills, the learning of new skills.
The labour group has made this argument, over the years, in different ways: -
We have argued that we need to be a Living Wage Foundation employer. And so we are. We need to go further than that and win accreditation by insisting all our contracts provide the Living Wage Foundation Living Wage.
We need to address the gender pay gap. Female full-time workers in Northampton average £449.40 pence per week compared to men who average £618.90. Both those rates are below the regional and national average.
We have argued that we need to give staff the opportunity to train up in Artificial Intelligence and robotic futures. We either embrace and share the opportunities the new technological future brings or we are condemning large numbers of our population to continuing marginalisation and poverty.
We have argued that we need to bring industry, retail, and tourism together around our shoe industry and make that an anchor feature of the town.
We have argued that we need to offer students from our university reasons to stay on after graduating. They need an opportunity to start- up businesses, to develop professional careers, to settle and raise their families here.
For other young people apprenticeships could be key. What are we doing to promote and encourage not just apprenticeships but excellent apprenticeships with jobs at the end? We have around 1700 apprenticeships in Northampton, only 7 of which are in our authority. The over whelming number are at the lower end of the skills ladder and many do not automatically lead to jobs.
We have also argued that we need to be doing much more to support SMEs. With 8 out of ten new companies folding within 5 years we need to think about their support needs. We have shared services for public bodies. We need shared services for SMEs.
We know that our voluntary sector can partner us in ways that add an extra £9 in value to every £1 spent. We need to include the voluntary sector as equal partners. We need to move from inefficient commissioning and project management to co designing and co delivery.
We need to look at the demographic of the town and understand what is special about our work force and what that might mean to incoming employers. We have a huge diversity, with communities speaking many, many languages. In terms of imports and exports that is a huge strength. How can we capitalise on that? In terms of diversity- how can we capitalise and marketise that richness of culture in food, music, fashion, literature, theatre? An Africa centre as recently proposed by the community in this chamber might be a part of that.
Higher paid jobs, improved skills, meeting the skills gap are all vital to the health of our local economy. That needs to be complemented by an income generation and investment strategy. Will Northampton Forward meet this need? Let’s hope so, although the promise of £25 million is now down to £6.5 million I understand? This means we have to be creative and entrepreneurial in how we manage our money. At present we have £8 million invested in a property portfolio that produces a dividend for us but no social value. We need to be investing to generate income AND produce social value for our town. There are lots of examples of LAs doing this. From Frome to Preston from Luton to Manchester, local authorities are becoming ever more radical and hitting both targets-sound investments, adding social value.
At the recent Local Government Conference, the consensus I heard from platforms, in fringe events, in written documentation- APSE is one, that outsourcing is a failed experiment. The arguments were all for insourcing. Rebuilding our work force, rebuilding our services because the public sector can do it better, more efficiently, more cost effectively than the private sector. It also means we keep our money local. We can set the standard for good employment practice. We can create local jobs for local people. We can contribute to the health of our local economy and drive the much needed, much longed for, regeneration of our town.