Two years until region's pre-pandemic jobs level returns, says report

It will take two years for pre-pandemic levels of employment to return as the region bids to battle back from Covid, a new report has said.

The unemployment count in the region has doubled over the past year, according to a new report
The unemployment count in the region has doubled over the past year, according to a new report

The latest state of the region report paints a stark picture of the challenges facing the West Midlands after the first year of the pandemic.

It says the unemployment claimant count almost doubled last year, with young people hit hardest, while apprenticeships slumped by nearly 20 per cent to 25,800.

Employment levels will not return to pre-Covid levels until 2023, the report says, while in the past year the regional economy (GVA) shrank by around nine per cent to £97 billion.

However, the report, which was developed by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), notes a number of signs of encouragement.

It says the success of vaccine rollout has helped to spur "relatively strong" regional growth this year, while the number of people with qualifications has improved "markedly".

Businesses have also demonstrated resilience, the report adds, with innovation and technology – as well as successful regional support programmes – helping them to prosper.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said the "open and honest" report showed the region faced a major challenge to bounce back after the pandemic.

"There is no question the pandemic has hit us exceptionally hard, but we have to use this report as a call to action for the West Midlands," he said.

"That’s why we’re pressing on with our practical plans to get the West Midlands back on track.

"We are in a difficult position right now, but I want residents to know that we are utterly determined to get this region back on top once again – and we have the plans to make that happen."

Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden, the Shadow City Minister, said: “We went into the pandemic with higher than average unemployment and the claimant count in Wolverhampton for example is approaching double the national average.

"If you add that to the decline in apprenticeships highlighted in this report you see the size of the employment challenge. We have far too many people out of work and if people are not taking part in the labour market then all the talk of levelling up won’t mean anything.

"The West Midlands should be much more active in selling itself as a fantastic location not only for manufacturing but also for new technology based business and services. We have some great education institutions and a young and diverse workforce. Those are big strengths and we’re not making enough of them.”

The report also says next year's Commonwealth Games will provide a big chance to boost the region’s hardest hit sectors such as hospitality.

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