Written evidence submitted by Tees Valley Combined Authority

Tees Valley Combined Authority is a Mayoral Combined Authority driving economic growth and job creation across Tees Valley.

We are a partnership between Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees local authorities, led by a directly elected Mayor, working with the Local Enterprise Partnership, wider business community and other partners to make local decisions that support the growth of our economy. Under our devolution deal, we have taken on responsibilities previously held by Whitehall including transport, infrastructure, skills, business investment, housing, culture and tourism.

We are making significant progress to deliver our ambition for Tees Valley to be a global leader in Clean Energy, Low Carbon and Hydrogen - to achieve a Net Zero carbon industrial cluster by 2040, providing good jobs with long-term prospects that local people can access. This ambition reflects our unique selling points as a region and sits at the heart of our framework for growth.

We are an area of significant opportunity, with a platform to support national recovery from Covid-19 and deliver future growth. We have economic assets of national significance, including the UK’s largest Freeport, the UK’s largest chemical complex, England’s largest port for outward tonnage and one of the UK’s leading higher education institutions for working with business, Teesside University.

As we spearhead the path to net zero, work is currently under way to get the land investor-ready and turn Teesworks into a hotbed of clean energy, offshore and advanced manufacturing activity to create thousands of good-quality, skilled jobs of tomorrow.

And thanks to the Darlington Economic Campus, our region will be closer to the heart of Westminster than ever before, helping government departments to understand the challenges and opportunities in regions like ours.

Not only that, but all these opportunities show local people they don’t need to leave the region to succeed in excellent careers in a variety of sectors - they can have their career of choice right here in Tees Valley. The #StayLocalGoFar campaign aims to raise aspirations as well as to highlight the fantastic career options available locally, and to encourage young people to consider future careers in the Tees Valley.

However, we are also experiencing some major economic challenges, many worsened by the impacts of the Covid pandemic. With high rates of economic inactivity and low levels of employment resulting in many residents having low expectations of securing good jobs locally.

But whilst challenging, these are extremely exciting times for Tees Valley. The significant economic developments happening across the whole of the Tees Valley, mean we are confident and optimistic about the future. A future where we continue to shape the region’s workforce and help secure future employment, ensuring local young people and adults have the skills they need to take advantage of the new and replacement demand jobs, including green jobs, being created.

We welcome the opportunity to respond to the inquiry.


As a Mayoral Combined Authority, Tees Valley presents a huge opportunity to address these issues as follows:

Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) should be central to supporting skills development in local places

We believe our role as a Mayoral Combined Authority, alongside our place leadership role, with established governance arrangements involving the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Skills Advisory Panel (SAP), will be critical in ensuring that the Tees Valley builds upon the work already undertaken in Tees Valley, makes further progress and achieves better outcomes for employers, providers, and learners in Tees Valley.

This will be facilitated through close working with the MCA and integrated LEP. Our LEP Integration Plan to Government highlights that our future business-led approach will: 

Since Academic Year 2019/20, Tees Valley Combined Authority has supported 59,283 adult learners across 31 providers through the devolution of Adult Education Budget (AEB), and despite the impact of the pandemic, we are continuing to see a year-on-year increase in learner numbers.

To date, we have also supported 683 learners in Tees Valley through the Free Courses for Jobs (Level 3 Adult Offer).

Pre-devolution, there were 300 providers delivering AEB in Tees Valley therefore one key message we continue to make to DfE is that skills provision is about quality not quantity and that devolution has enabled us to be much more focussed on addressing the local skills needs rather than providers simply maximising contracts/chasing funding at a national level.

Another example where a locally led approach is demonstrating greater impact is Skills Bootcamps. Following Wave 1, which was a nationally procured programme, DfE launched Wave 2 and Wave 3, and working closely with MCAs, made funds available at a local level.

As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of Skills Bootcamps being delivered in Tees Valley (currently 52) across several sectors including construction, telecoms, digital marketing, data analyst, coding, advanced manufacturing, offshore renewables, welding, engineering, bioscience, warehousing and logistics. We anticipate that 1,189 adults will be trained through the Wave 3 opportunity.

Again, at a local level, and to help people move into work, Tees Valley Combined Authority has successfully delivered a DWP Innovation Pilot, Tees Valley Routes to Work - supporting residents most distant from the labour market into or closer to sustainable employment. The pilot has engaged 3,908 people and assisted 976 into employment.

The Combined Authority has also acted as a Gateway Organisation for the DWP Kickstart Scheme –612 placements were approved at 123 businesses. 16 individuals are still participating in their placements, with all remaining placements ending throughout September. Current data shows 17 placements have moved into apprenticeships, 77 into employment with the business, 40 into alternative employment and 9 have returned to full time education.

All of this we feel demonstrates why MCAs should be central to supporting skills development in local places and that through further devolution of skills funding, we would have the responsiveness and flexibility to address local skills and business needs effectively.

How different parts of the system, and different programmes need to interact with each other to make a coherent employment and skills eco-system

Our overarching strategic approach for the lifetime of the new Tees Valley Employment & Skills Strategy – 2022 and beyond, is to connect, simplify and promote the multiple national and local employment, training, skills, and economic growth initiatives so they are greater than the sum of their parts and reach more businesses and residents.

Devolution provides us with the opportunity to engage with government departments and secure investment in new ways that enable us to better align and maximise our employment and skills programmes and funding streams.

However, many of our skills challenges are exacerbated by the complex skills landscape and duplication of skills provision that is procured nationally by DfE or commissioned and funded locally by DWP/JCP, impacting negatively on the volume of referrals to and performance of local AEB funded adult skills programmes. And we believe the ‘in-work’ progression offer will also duplicate the AEB offer for the employed.  Policy constraints are also having a negative impact on referrals to DfE Skills Bootcamps as they can’t be prioritised for referrals, and yet Skills Bootcamps are a DfE ‘employer-led’ flagship programme, with a guaranteed job interview for participants who are unemployed.

The alignment of careers education, information, advice, and guidance is also critical, with DfE/CEC and DWP having overlapping offers that are not fit for purpose.

For the skills system to meet the needs of the workforce and employers, the process for both employers and learners to engage, and remain engaged, must be simpler, more responsive and easier to navigate.

There needs to be a strengthened oversight of the government’s portfolio of workforce support and skills initiatives across all government departments (DfE, DWP, BEIS and DHLUC). In considering specific issues relating to the workforce, including current and future skills gaps, barriers to participation in skills training and how these barriers could be addressed, all relevant government departments must work together on this area with MCAs to address this.

An issue that we feel particularly strongly about and is something we continue to raise in our discussions with DWP at a national and local level, is that of data share arrangements, or lack of, between DWP/JCP and MCAs to enable us to make more responsive decisions in real-time and be able to use the data to determine investment in local interventions in a much more informed way.

Something that would be of significant benefit to us, would be to find an effective way for DWP/JCP to articulate and share data/information with us on the skill levels and types of skills that claimants have – as far as we are aware, this is not currently collated or shared. Having access to this information would assist the Combined Authority in making our adult skills offer even more responsive, maximising and optimising our devolution flexibilities in Tees Valley to support our residents to move into employment.

How employers and individuals can be encouraged to develop skills and engage with the skills system

The Tees Valley labour market is recovering strongly, with job vacancies increasing by 18% over the last year. The increase in job vacancies is resulting in increased demand from employers for workers, and yet we are still finding many employers unable to fill vacancies, including apprenticeship vacancies, highlighting a significant mismatch in demand and supply, resulting in some major imbalances.

In line with national policy - putting employers at the heart of skills - should afford the opportunity for a local approach to be taken in the design and delivery of any employment support, skills and all-age careers programmes, in which sub-regional bodies such as Mayoral Combined Authorities are given additional responsibilities and resources to create bespoke approaches best aligned with local priorities, economic strengths and opportunities.

Local businesses continue to opt not to engage with JCP to recruit employees and business feedback includes, they feel that they are persuaded to take what is on offer which may not fit their needs either in time or skills demand and have to reduce their expectations relating to the skills/experience they are seeking from potential employees to recruit, rather than JCP offering a bespoke responsive approach.  An example is the sector-based work academy programme that is too defined and constrained in its eligibility – the Combined Authority has developed a separate approach that has had to stand alongside sector-based work academies. 

In Academic Year 2022/23 we have introduced further local flexibilities in our AEB policies to enable more adults to access skills provision – particularly for those who are in low paid employment (£27,040) and are seeking to upskill and progress in work. We have also introduced policy to enable adults to retrain/career changers into priority sectors/high demand sectors.

Recognising that those who are unemployed or economically inactive will often seek employment in the sector or occupation they were previously employed in, therefore, equipping those people with the skills to take up employment in a wider range of sectors and occupations is essential if we are to help job match and reduce unemployment.

We therefore believe that the effective use of local economic intelligence and job posting analytics is critical to informing the discussions with claimants, not only in relation to understanding the jobs that are available, but also the skills being requested by employers in job postings.

It would also be more effective if job seekers were able to train for jobs over longer periods of time. Many employers are seeking skills that take longer to deliver than the time claimants are eligible to undertake in training, this has negatively impacted the volume of referrals to AEB funded adult skills programmes and Skills Bootcamps, resulting in underperformance and underspend in these funding streams at a time where people and businesses are demanding these skills.

October 2022