The panellists said that unemployment has become the biggest concern for those living and working in the region. “We’re now at the highest level of unemployment for two years nationally,” commented Eve Roodhouse, Chief Officer of Economic Development at Leeds City Council. “The figures now stand at 4.1%.” She warned that the situation is unprecedented. “We’ve gone from a situation where we had high unemployment in very specific communities, where we could focus our efforts,” she said. “Now it is right across the whole of our city. It presents a very different challenge for us in terms of the support that we’ve got to provide.”
In Bradford, the number of people claiming Universal Credit has jumped from 4.1% before the pandemic to 9.5%, according to Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford Council. “And a third of our workforce is furloughed,” he said. Mark Powell is founder and chief executive of Yes2Ventures, which helps those struggling to find work secure a job. He said that his organisation is “overwhelmed by anxious, depressed, jobless people without hope”.
The panellists warned that many young people are living in digital poverty in Yorkshire. “58% of our students live in postcode areas where we can’t assume that they have broadband,” said Angela Foulkes, Chief Executive and Principal at Sheffield College. “We also can’t assume they have laptops. We’re equipping people every single day but the cost of that is fairly sharp and the ability for our students to use a laptop remotely once they have one is another challenge.” Sophie Maxwell, Founder of The Really NEET Project, which helps young people into work, said that many young people don’t have a phone. “We were going back to sending them stamps, paper and pens through the post, doing everything we can during lockdown to connect to these young people.” She warned that organisations are struggling with funding shortfalls at a time when the demand for services has never been higher.
Apprenticeships are also being lost, reducing the number of opportunities for young people, the panellists warned. “A lack of apprenticeships filters back into classroom-based learning,” said Foulkes. One solution is to partner with private sector businesses to create skills academies, she said.
The UK government has pledged support for Yorkshire as part of its “levelling up” strategy. However, the panellists said that the private and third sectors must play their part. “The government is really very keen to get ‘levelling up’ back onto the agenda, but we wait to see how much investment Treasury can make in a very constrained environment,” said England. “Rich collaboration” is required, she added. “Policy Yorkshire, Together Yorkshire, the APPG and Yorkshire leaders, have already been coming together through the pandemic to establish a manifesto for Yorkshire, which has an agenda of sustainable and inclusive recovery from the pandemic.” All the panellists stressed the need to use partnerships as a way to accelerate impact. “We’re launching a COVID-19 tracing and testing system in 40 hospitals as a result of two or three technology companies coming together quickly,” said Zandra Moore, chief executive of tech firm Panintelligence. “But it’s about knowing where we can best use our skills, talent and resources – and being part of these partnerships is really important for us to do that.”
The pandemic has had a massive impact on both the physical and mental health of people across Yorkshire. The panellists called for targeted support to help to rebuild these communities. Small businesses will be crucial to this effort, according to Deb Oxley, Chief Executive at the Employee Ownership Association. “The power of small businesses is that they are able to respond so much quicker,” she said. “They tend to have a bigger footprint in terms of their stewardship and their social value around place and community.” Big businesses can also prioritise community efforts in order to make an impact: “The community is right at the heart of what we do as an organisation so in many ways we were ready for this,” said Pete Burchill, Member Pioneer Co-ordinator at Co-op. “We were able to get things like access to food programmes up and running quickly.” The solution, according to Powell, is to create more social enterprises that are focused on helping people and local communities. He said: “Social enterprises are a way forward in these troubled times and can prosper and they need better recognition. We need more think tanks to look at new ideas for social enterprise development.”
Helping independent food businesses to trade
Leeds Indie Food is a directory of independent restaurants, bar and market traders in Leeds. The website help consumers who are looking to buy food and beverages, funnelling much-needed support to the organisations
Tech for everyone
The Leeds Digital Festival champions the city’s technology industry. Because of lockdown, the festival went digital but still managed to deliver 400 events, welcoming 45,000 people, with speakers and attendees from 60+ countries.
Supporting learning and entrepreneurship
Twinkl is an online lesson planning and educational resource provider. During lockdown, it made its enormous library of content available for free to teachers and parents. It has also launched a scheme that provides grants and mentorship to people aged 18 to 22 so that they can pursue entrepreneurship as a career path. TwinklHive, based in Sheffield, will give each successful applicant up to £40,000 to build a business.
Supporting individuals with learning disabilities
Yes2Ventures provides a travel support service for people with learning disabilities across Sheffield and South Yorkshire. It provides an alternative to taxis and council transport for people who are nervous about travelling with strangers. Each week, the service helps 170 people to travel. In addition, Yes2Ventures helps those struggling to find work through a traditional route to train for a career in catering, and runs cafés where these people can get a job once qualified.
A stronger recovery post-COVID-19
The South Yorkshire COVID-19 Response Group was created by Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, to lead the region’s economic fight back. It is made up of South Yorkshire’s private sector, business bodies, universities, trade unions, local authorities and community groups and lobbies the government on behalf of Yorkshire, creating research to help guide investment in the region.
Support and develop the grassroots initiatives that have been seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic - ensuring that they are people powered and provide targeted support for communities, as one size does not fit all across the region.
Tackle digital exclusion by ensuring all people have access to online services. Repurpose equipment or provide devices and data to those who need it most.
Create more apprenticeships and opportunities for young people to join the workplace at an entry-level.