Rapid response and convening - Nottinghamshire County Council

Nottinghamshire County Council quickly responded to the economic, health and well-being impact of the pandemic in three main ways: convening partners to provide coherent recovery responses, bidding for funding, driving digital delivery and working with partners to protect apprenticeships and vulnerable young people.


The context

Nottinghamshire plays on its rich heritage and history. It is home to Sherwood Forest, the world-famous stomping ground of the legendary Robin Hood. It is a place more than 800,000 people call home, and nearly 30,000 businesses operate. The county is home to world class sport, culture and leisure such as Trent Bridge Cricket Ground.

Nottinghamshire County Council is a two-tier council in the East Midlands and has seven district councils: Ashfield, Bassetlaw, Broxtowe, Gedling, Mansfield, Newark and Sherwood and Rushcliffe. In recent years, a number of specialist organisations have been commissioned to deliver some of the council’s essential services. In 1995, Nottingham City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council jointly created Futures Group to be at the forefront of careers, advice, skills and support. The aim being to turn ambition into successful careers and fulfilling lives for residents. Inspire is a cultural organisation launched by Nottinghamshire County Council as part of an innovative strategy to manage libraries, archives, learning and cultural services across Nottinghamshire.

In March 2020, within an environment of a relatively high employment rate, Nottinghamshire County Council launched their inclusive ten-year Employment and Health Strategy (2020-2030). With the aim of reducing economic inactivity across Nottinghamshire and linking the role of good work and health, the strategy was designed to address the workforce challenge county businesses were facing. At the time, replacement demand for jobs was outstripping supply within a fast-growing economy, so the focus moved to a wider potential workforce. This environment has now changed, and as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nottinghamshire people have suffered hugely, including bereavement, illness, isolation and financial hardship. This tough time has had the following impact:

  • overall employment rate reduced by nearly 4.5 per cent
  • universal credit claimant rate more than doubled
  • 18-24 year olds are most adversely affected with their employment rate reducing by over 50 per cent
  • current furlough rate stands at 13 per cent, one point less than where it was in June 2020.

The vaccination now having been rolled out to millions of people, gives Nottinghamshire optimism for the future and that is especially true as the Government’s roadmap towards a more normal way of life is implemented.


The team

Despite the challenges faced for over a year now, coupled with the additional costs borne as a result of the pandemic, Nottinghamshire County Council have adapted to keep delivering high-quality services for Nottinghamshire communities. Nottinghamshire County Council is one of the largest employers in the county, employing more than 15,000 people overall, with a budget of £1.1 billion, and delivers 400 services. As the tenth largest council in England, Nottinghamshire County Council employs a range of staff that work within employment and skills and operates a cross-council employment group which brings together leads from internal teams and partner organisations. This group is looking to drive innovation and reimagine how Nottinghamshire County Council works in response to employment and health, and includes Human Resources, children’s and young people services, the supported employment service, i-Work, and growth and economic development. 

The growth and economic development team lead on strategic development and funding, engagement with business and undertake collaborative working across Nottinghamshire with the seven district councils, the Local Enterprise Partnership (D2N2 LEP) and strategic partners.  Nottinghamshire County Council has a commitment to provide supported internships, operates apprenticeship and graduate programmes, and  owns  two supported employment enterprises.


The response

Nottinghamshire County Council quickly responded to the economic, health and well-being impact of the pandemic in three main ways: convening partners to provide coherent recovery responses, bidding for funding, driving digital delivery and working with partners to protect apprenticeships and vulnerable young people.

As part of the council’s contribution to the Local Resilience Forum (LRF), a multi-agency group was established to respond to and minimise the impact of major emergencies. An economy cell was created within weeks of the first lockdown announcement. A co-created action plan was published and its impact continues to be monitored, covering the five themes of: business support offer coordination and brokerage; digital, low carbon and supplementary planning requirements; skills and employment coordination and brokerage; sustainable re-opening of businesses (to include High Streets and sectors) and; reuse of buildings and vacant properties and a pipeline of inward investment.

Alongside this, Nottinghamshire County Council established a COVID-19 Recovery Resilience and Renewal Committee made up of elected members and a public health lead. In September 2020, the COVID-19 crisis Economic Recovery Action Plan 2020-2022 was launched.  Since then, elected members have received two progress updates; one in November 2020, the other in January 2021. In the intervening days since the Action Plan was set in motion, over £14,286,500 of new money had been secured to help stimulate the economy and directly impact the residential and business community of Nottinghamshire. The five themes of: people, business, visitor economy, infrastructure and place, remain a constant.  For the time being, digital connectivity is included within several themes. However, given the new-found relevance and wide acknowledgement of the importance of digital services, there are plans to present this theme separately in the future.

Through an embedded approach to supporting creativity and innovation, a rapid response for residents and businesses was required.  Nottinghamshire County Council mobilised quickly to bring the various employment, skills and support services together, through an online portal ‘one stop shop’ for public sector funded jobs and skills support.

This was pivotal to their ability to connect different services and support people in an easily accessible way. 

Building on this, Futures were commissioned to provide a suite of online resources (such as??) for young people that provide information on study and progression routes, labour market information and access to employers in a new and exciting format. It presents the opportunity for employers and recruiters to engage with Nottinghamshire schools and students through  online jobs fairs.

In addition, as part of Nottinghamshire County Councils COVID-19 Crisis Economic Recovery Strategy, the aim is to deliver a digital platform to help businesses recruit local talent and support local residents to access employment, matching skills and training with job opportunities.  This is taking learnings from the Nottinghamshire Coronavirus Community Support Hub (created in response to the pandemic in March 2020) and highlights the importance of ease of access to information, no more than one click away, which is helping to shape the employment brokerage platform.

Inspire, as Nottinghamshire County Council’s learning and skills provider, were able to shift to digital delivery quickly in response to the pandemic and enabled external funding programmes to meet local needs. It is expected that future services will combine a mix of face-to-face and digital delivery.

Similarly, Nottinghamshire County Council worked with their districts to bid for funding aimed at meeting the Government's investment priorities and which could offer clear additional value and deliver additional outputs. COVID-19 created opportunities to support recovery and growth as the Government announced High Street and Towns funding. Nottinghamshire County Council -has worked closely with local partners to support the development of five towns fund bids across the county: Mansfield and Newark were awarded a combined total of £37.3 million and the other allocations are due to be announced. The growth and economic development team has focused on securing more funding to build on its inclusive employment strategy.

Nottinghamshire County Council also secured funding for a post to support programme delivery for the next two years for their Paid Apprenticeships Programme. There had previously been a reliance on the hospitality sector for placements and this has had an impact on take up. In response, partners came together to make sure that places were protected. Nottinghamshire County Council is also offering work experience places for young people under the government’s Kickstart scheme, alongside its well-established supported internship programme (as mentioned earlier).  

Nottinghamshire County Council continues to explore and identify growth opportunities in the county and setting recovery within opportunities around their inward investment, housing offer and major infrastructure projects that have cross-party support, such as the development of an aerospace college and HS2.


Key learning

  • Nottinghamshire County Council found that although some data was available nationally and regionally, it was very difficult to understand the impact of COVID-19 at a local level as information was not readily available. This would have helped shape solutions more quickly.
  • Areas which have low social mobility (Ashfield and Mansfield) have been more adversely affected by health inequality. This creates challenges for people that were already disadvantaged and are now faced with navigating a challenging and competitive labour market.
  • There is concern that employers will ‘cherry pick’ staff, and this might have an adverse effect on recruitment opportunities for young people.
  • Whilst national programmes are to be welcomed, there is a danger of these displacing established local programmes and employer relationships.

In hindsight

It would have been helpful to have a coordinated ask from government for more local data and insight so that service design and response could have been more evidence driven. 


The future

One of the positives emerging from the COVID-19 response has been the sense of shared ownership and social responsibility across multiple agencies across Nottinghamshire, to respond to the various issues borne out by the pandemic. There has been a concerted effort to ensure that nobody is left behind. Couple this with the leadership demonstrated by the various partners and the drive to provide information and support. There is a feeling that this will help develop better and stronger relationships between residents, businesses and the public sector across Nottinghamshire.

With a well-publicised skills shortage affecting businesses across the Midlands region and the number of vacancies beginning to rise, supporting employers to find the talent they need to grow and enhance their productivity will be critical. Nottinghamshire County Council’s Chief Executive Anthony May, was a keynote speaker at the Nottinghamshire (Virtual) Recruiting Talent event, encouraging employers to widen their search for talent to include those who might be excluded from traditional recruiting processes for a variety of reasons, despite possessing the skills employers increasingly require.

Against a fragile and uncertain future financial backdrop, Nottinghamshire County Council is looking at how to continue embedding Futures as part of the council’s continued response to make a positive difference to people’s lives by enabling them to realise their full potential in employment, education and training through increased confidence, awareness and skills.


Contact

Sonja Smith

Economic Development Officer

[email protected]