Borough partnerships and sector diversification - Hounslow Council

One of the key elements of HC’s response to the pandemic has been looking at how they can support a more balanced economy in the medium and long term—encouraging new businesses into the borough and upskilling residents to move communities into work.

The context

The London Borough of Hounslow is in West London. Heathrow has been the key driver of Hounslow’s economy, not only as an employer but also as a central site with an extensive supply chain and associated service economy. COVID-19 has affected the areas and demographics within the borough differently. For every three jobs lost due to COVID-19 in the east of the borough, there were four lost in the west. Although Hounslow’s overall employment rate has grown post-COVID (from 72 per cent in April 2019-March 2020 to 74.4 per cent in October 2019-September 2020), the UC claimant rate almost tripled, growing from 3.7 in March 2020 to 9.2 per cent in January 2021. The 18-24 age group has the highest rate of UC claims (12.3 per cent), with employment rates for this cohort declining up to 20 per cent. The provisional furlough take-up rate in Hounslow for January 2021 was 20 per cent, higher than the national average of 16 per cent, but down from the April-May 2020 rate of 31.2 per cent. Alongside this, gross weekly pay has declined by £62.50 between 2019-2020.

Young people were twice as likely to suffer job losses than those over 50 (and have the highest UC claimant rate as of January 2021), and areas of the borough with over seventy percent minority ethnic populations have suffered three times as many job losses as those areas with a low minority ethnic population. In terms of gender impacts, the rate of young women, and particularly young women from an ethnic minority background, in employment has historically been a challenge for the borough. COVID-19 has had a greater impact on men, so this gap has narrowed. Going forward, the employment & skills team aims to prioritise understanding and meeting the needs of disadvantaged groups who may have been left further behind by the pandemic.

The team

Hounslow’s employment & skills team sits within the education directorate, with close links to the economic directorate. The team’s focus is on shaping employment and skills development with local organisations and employers, including, for example, linking schools with apprenticeships and encouraging businesses to adopt the apprenticeship pledge. The employment & skills team currently has eight members of staff, including employment and skills escalator advisors, and roles in employer engagement, business support, section 106 compliance, and voluntary, community, and social enterprise support. This represents almost double the size of the team from the year before, as employment & skills has expanded to face the current challenge. Staff are funded from a variety of different streams, including section 106, the Adult Education Budget (AEB), and COVID-19 funds.

The response

With Heathrow likely to take years to return to pre-pandemic growth, the impact on the borough going forward will be significant. One of the key elements of HC’s response to the pandemic has been looking at how they can support a more balanced economy in the medium and long term—encouraging new businesses into the borough and upskilling residents to move communities into work. The pandemic has also significantly impacted on the retail, hospitality, and manufacturing sectors, which a year ago were growth areas for apprenticeships.  

The major sector for employment growth in the borough has been health and social care, particularly within the NHS. The West London Alliance (WLA), a partnership of seven London boroughs including Hounslow, has worked with the local NHS trusts to recruit more local people into entry level positions, following research that showed more workers were coming from the east of the city than locally. Shaw Trust have acted as a single point of contact to support recruitment for the vaccination drive, Test and Trace, and for more general administrative or care assistant roles. Values and attributes are core to NHS’s recruiting at entry level, so individuals with a variety of work experiences were supported to apply transferrable skills to the healthcare sector. This includes people who may have worked in logistics, facilities, or even as pilots. Many of the people who moved into admin and vaccination roles have come from the hard-hit self-employed and microbusiness sectors. Fifty per cent of people put forward had their employment directly impacted by COVID-19.

Although these jobs are not necessarily long-term, they will enable people to move into an NHS staff bank (ie join an organisation provides access to flexible NHS shift work) in future. Working with the West London Alliance on this employment initiative has built on from past partnership working between the boroughs and real buy-in from senior leadership on the principle that the boroughs can achieve more in collaboration than in competition.

Hounslow’s business support and skills and employment teams coordinate their offers of different types of business support. Part of the COVID-19 response effort has been exploring where recovery will come from beyond the NHS. Sectors that HC has ambition to expand include the logistics sector and increasing professional services. Hounslow has global companies based in the borough but does not yet have a robust professional service sector to support them. The creative sector, particularly TV and media production, has grown in the borough during the pandemic and have invested in developing a Creative Enterprise Zone. Construction, digital, and IT are also emerging as growth sectors. HC has also developed a digital studio at Hounslow Adult and Community Education’s Meadowbank Centre to develop entry into the digital and technology sectors in partnership with large local technology companies.

The council’s business mentoring services have been ongoing for existing businesses during this time. It has been successful in engaging with microbusinesses and SMEs, but it can be more challenging to relationships with large employers, who may have high expectations of the borough’s ability to accommodate them.  

Going forward, Hounslow is working on developing additional skills and training programmes with employer involvement so that the local workforce can receive training that helps fill needs in the locality. One of the challenges for this work is balancing the desire to be ambitious in creating partnerships with employers with the resource limitations of the employment and skills directorate. Pooling efforts and joining up systems between the WLA boroughs may be one way to work at a larger scale in this area but requires investment in setting up of data sharing and additional collaborative workflows within the partnership.  

The learning

  • One of the key learnings from Hounslow’s response has been the need to diversify the borough’s focus on Heathrow and its supply chains to a broader range of employers across the area.
  • Skills and employment support will need to be a high priority area going forward. The skills & employability team has historically brought together short-term funding from a variety of sources. To maintain the infrastructure the expanded team has created, there will need to be a commitment to longer-term funding.

In hindsight

In hindsight, the employment & skills team reflected that it would have been beneficial to have had an improved website and CRM system in place before the pandemic, as developing this delayed some of the mobilisation of support offers.  

The future

The employment & skills team is preparing to address the eventual impacts of the furlough scheme, anticipating that there will be a significant number of people with reduced hours and reduced circumstances who will need support. To build on their successful employer engagement, such as the WLA’s work with the NHS, employer engagement resources will need to increase so that Hounslow does not miss out on opportunities. This time next year, the employment & skills team is aiming to be in a stronger position as an organisation, raising expectations and ambitions, and calling on local businesses to contribute to the recovery agenda.


Vicki Taylor

Assistant Director Education & Skills