The high value-added nature of London’s economy makes a skilled workforce critical, not only to individual prosperity but also to the economic success of the UK as a whole. It is impressive that the region’s economic output per person is the highest in the country and produces 18% of UK wealth with only 13.5% of the country’s workers.
However, greater overall productivity and competitiveness rely on London’s businesses being able to draw from a workforce equipped with good basic skills in numeracy, literacy and IT. For this to happen, and for London to continue to be a premier world city and be recognised as one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the world, there are several challenges we must face up to.
We have more people qualified to degree level than in any other UK region, but there are also far too few opportunities for those with poor skills or low skills. We have the highest rates of business start ups and overseas investment compared to other regions, but we also have the highest regional unemployment rate and the highest failure rate of new companies. London is one of the most expensive environments to live, work and do business in, but it is also one of the few locations in the world you can earn over £1 million working for someone else.
So how can we respond and step up to these challenges? The Liberal Democrats believe that to deliver world-class skills, world-class facilities are needed. It is essential that London’s current and future workforce are both invested in. The Liberal Democrats champion closing the funding gap between London’s schools and colleges, starting by providing equal funding for equivalent courses, wherever they are taught.Investing in the modern, high-quality college facilities needed to deliver high-quality skills training in London would help create the climate for improving the skills of London’s workforce.
There is much more that employers could do – for compared with other English regions, London has a relatively low proportion who actually provide training to their employees.
Furthermore, the approach taken must actually lead to people being able to gain employment. Issues such as racial, sexual and disability-based discrimination within recruitment and employment and other barriers to work – for example, the cost of child-care – need to be addressed. Improving the skill-set of the workforce will only benefit London if it applied to all of London.
London’s businesses and economy will never be able to thrive simply by trying to out-bid other countries in cutting costs and turning the capital into one large sweatshop.
But with the right outlook and the right skills, we can match and exceed those other areas based on high productivity and high value-added work. It makes both moral and economic sense to ensure that everyone has a fair chance to participate and make the most of their own skills and interests.
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