Infrastructure and employment/skills projects will be at the heart of Reading's economic recovery

Integrated infrastructure and skills/employment projects are going to be hugely important to Reading’s economic recovery. Focusing on key growth sectors, particularly the green and digital economy, Reading UK is setting up a task force with Reading Borough Council to advise, support and help deliver a range of integrated training projects which maximise public and privates sector sources of funding.

The creation of employment and training opportunities by capital projects has been a key outcome and output of Government funded economic development and city regeneration interventions in the post war era especially in recessions. In recent times, private sector schemes such as the Tesco distribution centre in South Reading demonstrate the hundreds of local construction jobs and thousands of end use jobs that can be created. Numerous other schemes are already under construction in Reading (e.g. Huntley Wharf, Station Hill) or are due to progress through planning shortly (Station Hill later phases, Royal Mail site, SSE site) and will bring additional construction and end use jobs to the town. Many of these are subject to Employment and Skills Plans administered by Reading UK for the Council.

Increasingly however, the role of local authorities is becoming more important in bringing forward capital schemes themselves and as the lead bidding partner for Government funded bids often directed through the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) including the Local Growth Fund and Prosperity Fund, administered by the LEP.   

Opportunities also exist to draw down skills training funding to support inclusive growth linked to capital works and the LEP’s ‘Skills Priority Statement’, This statement prioritises growth sector skills, such as green construction and digital skills which provides a policy context and a route to funding for training programmes.  

The current COVID 19 pandemic and the associated economic recession has escalated unprecedented levels of Government investment in saving jobs and investing in capital projects. The way forward to maximise these opportunities for Reading is through a partnership between the public, private and education/ training sectors.

The Government’s £3bn new "green investment" package, to cut carbon emissions aims to create tens of thousands of new jobs, while helping the UK cut carbon emissions to almost zero by 2050 through the insulation of public buildings such as schools and hospitals and adding low-carbon heating technology to social housing. The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates over a million new green jobs could be created by 2050.

Reading Borough has declared a climate emergency and has set a challenging a net zero by 2030 target requiring significant infrastructure investment. Besides building, retrofitting, insulation and charging and energy projects there is a lot of scope for installing a network of electric vehicle technology both personal and mass rapid transit and autonomous vehicles.  Jobs and skills would be created in R+D, tech manufacture, design build and installation and maintenance.

The LGA is calling for national skills and employment schemes and funding so councils can work with businesses and education providers to train local people to benefit from these new opportunities.  The afore-mentioned Employment and Skills Plans have been highly successful in creating careers, skills and employment benefits from capital infrastructure projects.

The Council recently submitted several capital infrastructure projects in response to a Government call for ‘shovel-ready’ capital schemes. Reading UK supported the bids, providing the policy context through its Powered by People Strategy.  One project requested funding to install solar energy panels. The energy cost savings gained would then be invested in a green skills fund and it was proposed that Reading UK could facilitate the partnership between the Council and training providers to deliver a green skills programmes using this fund.

Digital skills are also a key part of the economic recovery of the Thames Valley and Reading.  Reading has already been designated the UK Digital Tech Hub based on the high proportion of digital tech workers but still falling short of the digital skills demanded by the ‘digital-tech’ businesses locally. We have for some years had smart city aspirations and tried to go forward in the shadows of Bristol and Milton Keynes, leaders in this area. These are not just graduate level sector programming jobs and electronics-based jobs, but opportunities for young people leaving school and colleges, jobs in technical and support services and in non-tech companies that are increasingly looking to use technology processes including AI and AR. 

Nationally, women (only 19%) and BAME communities (15%) are underrepresented in the digital tech sector while over 35’s (not Millennials) make up 72% of the digital workforce. There are many opportunities to learn coding at a very basic level, to work in customer support, digital tech wiring and equipment installations in new and existing buildings, sales in the digital-tech sector and start up new digital tech apps-based businesses.  

This is reflected in the priority given to the Curious Lounge digital skills training hub by Reading Borough Council, New Directions and Reading UK, alongside Thames Valley Berkshire LEP who provided a £250,000 capital grant to fit out and install tech in the project. This could be a catalyst to attract future skills funding linked to capital construction needs and demands as we develop out smart technology priorities.

The Reading Leadership Forum, our economic recovery strategy, and a recent ‘Reboot Reading’ debate all advocate the need to invest our young people with green and digital skills including self-employment opportunities through targeted incubation facilities.

Finally, work is underway to repurpose the town centre of Reading to assure its future role and contribution to the economic prosperity of Reading, guarding against the threats of recession and negative forces on the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors.  Infrastructure investment will be a key part of the strategy to safeguard the town centre and there will be many opportunities to create skills, training and employment opportunities along the way.

Inclusive growth is a key strand of the Powered by People Strategy. In line with the Reading 2050 Vision, the Climate Change Strategy,  the emerging Berkshire wide economic recovery priorities and the TVB Skills Priority Statement, we should seek to maximise the number of integrated capital and skills training and employment projects through partnership working and leveraging of private and public sector sources of funding by aligning skills development/employment plans with infrastructure investment proposal; focusing on growth sectors, including, the green and digital economies; advising and supporting Reading Borough Council in bringing forward integrated capital and skills, training and employment proposals. To deliver the latter, Reading UK will provide a public private sector partnership environment that will support the Council in bidding for funding for integrated capital works and skills training projects and assisting in the delivery of the skills and employment outcomes; continue to administer the delivery of ‘Employment and Skills Plans’ by developers and investors including the use of financial contributions towards employment, skills, education and training outcomes and attract and influence private sector property investors and end users in Reading that will create employment and skills training opportunities.  


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