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City committed to working things out;TECS

NO ONE could accuse Mike Beasley, chairman of Birmingham's New Deal Task Force, of hypocrisy when he urges business to take on young people under the scheme. As Operations Director at Jaguar, he will see 100 of the 700 jobs due to be introduced at the new plant in the city go to New Deal clients.

Birmingham is strongly promoting partnerships to fuse economic development with strategies for combating exclusion and disadvantage. And its training and enterprise council isa driving force.

The New Deal is managed by the training and enterprise council on behalf of a raft of partners. Only 61 per cent of the city's jobs are held by people who live there. One of the impact measures to be used by the New Deal task force will be number of jobs filled by Birmingham residents. Employers attracting job subsidies will be expected to target city dwellers where possible, offer a job after the New Deal six months finishes, provide training towards a qualification and, crucially, pay the rate for the job.

David Cragg, Birmingham TEC's chief executive, explains why rate for the job and continued employment are viewed as vital. 'It's no good just bean-counting. We need to know more than just how many people went into the employer option and were there at the end of six months. We need to look at job retention rates at six months and 12 months to be absolutely sure we are enhancing an individual's employability."

The 12-strong employer task force was unanimously for paying the rate for the job. "They took the view that if New Deal was not going to be perceived as a cynical manipulation of young people, it was very important. There was no argument."

All this is enshrined in the TEC's New Deal charter, alongside what young people can expect on the programme - everything from a personal training plan and continuous assessment to the right to fair treatment at all times.

The training council co-ordinates a single New Deal team across the city, drawn from all partners. Training support for small businesses has been doubled to pound;1,500. As there are a lot of long-term unemployed people ready to join the programme, the Gateway, by which young people enter, has been enhanced with money from Europe for young people with special needs in the full-time training and education option.

The council manages Modern Apprenticeships, and delivery of NVQs as well as New Deal so there is a seamless progression route once New Deal support ends; employers will deal with just one agency - the training council.

In Birmingham, the New Deal Gateway builds on the city's substantial infrastructure of pre-vocational guidance. Those entering the programme are given advice and support through one of ten neighbourhood networks, drawing on the expertise of voluntary and community-based organisations, usually with a college at the hub.

Tackling racial disadvantage is part of the city's strategy to address the needs of disadvantaged groups. Thirty-four per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds are from black or ethnic minority groups and face disproportionate unemployment. About half the city's five-year-olds are from these groups, and the strategy is to close the employment gap so they will not face the same barriers when they leave school.

The council has a seconded headteacher to work with 12 schools helping them devise action plans to target under-achieving groups in Years 10 and 11, many of whom are boys from ethnic minority groups. Three schools in Birmingham are involved in the Star Project - funded by the Department for Education and Employment - which aims to reduce the number of young people who leave school without qualifications. The hope is to get them learning again through individual action plans and alternative approaches.

Disaffected young people aged 14 to 16 who have been excluded from mainstream education are benefiting from specialist support and pre-vocational training run by Lindsworth School in Kings Norton.

The New Deal employer task force includes an Asian businessman, a black entrepreneur, blue- chip companies, representatives from two unions and the city council, Birmingham's largest employer. The programme, says Mike Beasley, is providing an important opportunity to develop Birmingham's biggest economic resource - its workforce.

His message to fellow employers is clear. "It is essential that everyone who becomes involved in New Deal sees it as an important part of the overall strategy for education, training and employment in the city, and not as an isolated initiative". Proper jobs with proper pay and proper training for the long-term unemployed should be the key to spreading skills in the city.

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