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Wrexham Councillors to scrutinise employment programmes

WREXHAM Council’s community employment programmes come under scrutiny this week after the plug was nearly pulled on them when EU funding stopped.

For eight years the authority has delivered the Communities for Work and then Communities for Work Plus programmes seeking to provide direct support to people who are long-term unemployed or economically inactive from informal, community-based settings.

They have been run in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with job centre support.

These programmes are voluntary but aim to be more accessible than traditional job-related support, to help people into employment.

Support can range from helping people with their body language and social skills to help with their motivation, confidence and updating their CV, designed to help those who may be long-term unemployed, at risk of disadvantage or under-represented in the labour market.

The council’s employment, business and investment scrutiny committee will look at the performance of the programmes, with a report to be presented by lead member for economy and regeneration, Gwenfro Cllr Nigel Williams (Ind).

Cllr Nigel Williams (Ind)

It states that European Union funding for these programmes is coming to an end this year due to Brexit, but the Welsh Government is stepping in to provide funds to keep Communities for Work Plus running until next year and potentially 2025.

This comes after staff were nearly made redundant earlier this year due to the economic uncertainty caused by the UK Government’s mini-budget in September, before more funding was recently found by the Welsh Government.

The team is based in two community buildings in Caia Park and Plas Madoc where they provide face-to-face support and host training courses. The team also provides services throughout the entire county borough using community facilities and buildings.

As well as the long-term unemployed the team has also helped staff recently made redundant by the closure of care homes in Wrexham into new employment, and helped Ukrainian refugees overcome barriers to find work.

The report states: “The council delivers Communities for Work and Communities for Work Plus programmes through a team of 27 staff, based in two community-based offices but operating across a network of community resource centres, libraries and other community buildings throughout Wrexham.

“The Communities for Work programme has also seen four Department for Work and Pensions staff, embedded into the team.”

Nearly 1,000 people have accessed Communities for Work since it began in 2015, with more than a third finding employment.

More than 1,000 people have enrolled on Communities for Work Plus with nearly 500 people being helped into work, exceeding targets according to the report.

It says: “Since the inception of Communities for Work in 2015/16 it has enrolled 924 participants, of whom, 352 have entered employment (16 hours per week).

“Whilst making a significant difference to a large number of people’s lives, the programme performance was affected in the earlier days by the strict geographic eligibility; although the switch to a county-wide provision has led to improved figures.

“Communities for Work Plus has enrolled 1,221 participants into support and has seen 499 enter employment, exceeding the programme target.

“Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, programmes funded by the European Social Fund will end on March 31, 2023. As such, Communities for Work will end in Wrexham on this date.

“Welsh Government has made a commitment to continue its support for Communities for Work Plus through to 2025.”

The report adds: “Communities for Work Plus plays a key role in the economic landscape of Wrexham, working to support people into work but also responding to the needs of employers by reacting to gaps in the workforce and in terms of skills development for particular sectors.

“The programme has been successful in the delivery of sector-based academy approaches that create tangible routes through to employment for job-seekers on the programme.”

The scrutiny committee will meet on Wednesday (April 5) to discuss the report.