Look, because this post is aimed at politicians, I’ll try to make it simple.
If all you do is to improve the education in any given economically disadvantaged area all that you will do is to make that area even more economically disadvantaged.
The reasons for this are straightforward.
Educational improvement is incremental, and long term. The financing of industrial development in the UK is driven by short term returns.
Consider a cohort. They are provided with a better education than previous generations in their area (by air-dropping in a corps of ‘super-teachers’, by providing better facilities, who knows?). Some of them go to university. They succeed. What do they do? They look to get a great job. Where do they look? They look where there are great jobs. And that is not in the town they grew up in. Because there are still no jobs there. There are still no large industries. So they take their great education get a job and settle somewhere else. And their home town dies a little more.
‘Social mobility’ often just translates into ‘mobility’. The individual moves away leaving the same issues behind them
There seems to be a belief that by improving education you will create this core of people in an area around which economic development will coalesce. Without sustained government support for the industries, that doesn’t happen. Small businesses don’t have the financial viability to employ significant numbers of people nor can they afford to develop them as individuals. Large established industries won’t move into such areas if they think there is a question mark over the availability of a suitably qualified workforce. This is why we see cities expand, filling with office-based jobs that could be done anywhere. And we still see that in too many disadvantaged areas that the largest employer in the locality is, yes, you’ve guessed it, the school.
The economic investment has to happen before, or at the very latest, at the same time as the educational improvement. I do actually see a way forward with this and its a way that may well fit into this governments agenda. Although there are obviously bits of what i suggest that will hate.
I don’t believe that industries will move into disadvantaged areas without subsidy. Why would they when they can be successful without doing so? So what should we subsidise?
Lets find a way to subsidise very high quality apprenticeships (across all types of employment and at all levels of qualification) for companies that move employment into areas of economic disadvantage. Not just at the fringes, but fully subside the costs. Fiddling around with a couple of grand here and there really does not make a difference. The apprenticeships would be supported by the nearest relevant educational establishment (school/college/university). The apprentice route is important here, as it keeps the learner and the job (along with the cash that goes with it) in the locality, boosting the local economy even more.
I’d go even further. Where companies engage with this they should receive preferential treatment when it comes to planning and when tendering for publicly funded work. Hell, we could even give them some tax breaks. And even further. Where investors want to fund start-ups in these areas then similar benefits would apply.
There would have to be a quid pro quo. The companies must behave. Pay their taxes. Pay their workers properly. Be equitable employers. There would be other issues to consider including looking at ways to prevent the largest organisations using this a a way to warehouse employees without the locality gaining the full benefits of the industry. This will require political interference.
I’d make one hard and fast rule. None of these subsidies would be available to employers located within (say) 50 miles of the centre of a city of more than (say) 250,000. This distance and size can be made to vary to allow subsidy nearer to a smaller population centre.
This is a long term strategy. It won’t win elections because it will only bear fruit over a number of parliaments. There is no short term win here. No day-glo jacket photo-op. The win is to consider a country where every area generates the same GDP per head of population as the current higher performing areas.
Of course, once you have all these people staying and working in the areas they grew up you have to find somewhere to house them. That’s someone else’s problem to solve…