Cllr Baroness O’Neill of Bexley OBE, Chairman of Local London shares her priorities for the new year.
I hope that you had a great break at Christmas and have returned feeling refreshed and ready for new challenges.
As we move into this fresh new year, I wanted to say thank you to all partners (public sector colleagues, businesses, not-for-profits and education providers) who are committed to making the lives of people in our sub-region better. There are simply too many to name and I wouldn’t want to offend by missing someone out!
2023 had its share of challenges, and people in our communities and many councils are facing cost of living difficulties in addition to the dealing with the on-going consequences of the pandemic. In 2024, by continuing to work together we will best address those important issues through strong partnerships, making the best use of our resources and expertise. Local London and our partners will continue to deliver programmes and strategies that will ease some of that load for our residents and businesses.
With elections this year there are likely to be opportunities to discuss and promote our three-year plan ‘Towards 2026’ advocating for our boroughs, bidding for funding and supporting members through our work.
We will build on the successes of our employment support programmes, focussing primarily on those hardest to reach and furthest from the job market, which have already helped over 16,000 residents back to work. Through our ‘No Wrong Door’ approach, we will improve connections between employers, employment advisors and people looking for work and training opportunities.
The introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will take these employment support programmes from strength to strength. This will help us continue this support for people facing most barriers to work and build on the learning and relationships we have gained delivering them across our boroughs.
We will continue to help more micro and SME business owners develop the digital skills to build resilient enterprises. Over 2,000 businesses have accessed the free Local London E-business programme, which has been extended to March 2025. The door is open for local entrepreneurs to take advantage of this free support and increase their customer base, revenue and long-term future.
Over 205 schools, colleges, SEND establishments and pupil referral units are engaged with our careers hub service. The Local London team already has plans to host more industry insight days for students and teachers, employer visits, workshops and events, to ensure young people in our boroughs receive the most innovative careers education possible.
Throughout 2024, the Local London team will be driving forward engagement to ensure the recommendations highlighted in ‘Mind the Skills Gap’ – our employer-led and data-driven Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) in the sub-region are implemented.
To prepare people for jobs in the priority sectors identified in ‘Mind the Skills Gap’ the Local London team will highlight current and future opportunities to adults and young people, building on the work that has already begun with events such as the Sustainability Careers event for secondary school students.
Our Focus on Place
We will also focus supporting regeneration in our member boroughs and cross-borough issues such as improving transport and digital connectivity.
We will be launching our Digital Infrastructure Strategy and digital toolkit for our sub-region and our counterparts in the South London Partnership imminently. This will support boroughs in our sub-regions to attract the inward investment needed to ensure residents, business and public services can access the internet quickly and reliably.
I recently met Julia Lopez MP, Minister of State for Data and Digital Infrastructure to raise the importance of urban areas like ours to access investment through the National Building Digital UK (BDUK) Project Gigabit and had a very positive discussion with her. Our uniquely dynamic and diverse sub-region offers fantastic testbed potential for trialling urban-specific initiatives. I will keep you informed of any follow up from the Minister but in the meanwhile, the Local London team will continue to engage constructively with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and BDUK.
As London’s Leading Edge, we have a huge opportunity for growth in this part of London. Intersected by two of the country’s most prominent growth corridors, the UK’s Innovation Corridor (UKIC) and the Thames Estuary region, our boroughs are already changing at pace and offering an exciting future for people, businesses and investors.
Following on from UKIC research, our Upper Lee Valley boroughs are now working together with The Productivity Institute to develop a place-based investment strategy. We look forward to sharing this learning with other boroughs in the next 12 months.
There are many reasons to be excited for the future. We look forward to attracting the investment this part of London deserves and helping people and businesses reach their greatest potential.
Wishing you a productive and prosperous 2024.
Councillor Baroness O’Neill of Bexley OBE, Chairman of Local London and Leader of London Borough of Bexley.