Tony Pidgley CBE: Wandsworth Jobs Summit Header

Tony Pidgley CBE, Chairman of the Berkeley Group, speaking at Wandsworth Jobs Summit

Monday 9th December 2013

Thank you very much for this opportunity. We are proud to invest in Wandsworth. Berkeley's success is tied to the success of this borough - we have a big stake in its future.

Now Berkeley is a housebuilder. But we don't just build housing. Our whole philosophy is about places. Creating fantastic places where people live, work and play.

Jobs are therefore fundamental. The jobs we create on site. The jobs we support during development. And the permanent jobs we create in the places we build.

Take one of our developments, Riverlight on Nine Elms. This will create 802 homes, 250 jobs and 45 apprenticeships alongside a programme of site visits for unemployed people and local schools.

Those commitments are set out in an Employment Plan we negotiated with the borough during planning. It's more detailed and more demanding than many councils expect. And that tells me as a developer that you're serious about creating jobs for local people.

Over the last 10 years, Berkeley has built 3,600 homes within a mile of Riverlight. We are investing a total of £580 million in the regeneration of this area. That should tell you something about the confidence we have in this location.

But without jobs, none of it will be sustainable. Jobs and housing need to go hand in hand. You need to invest in the people while you invest in the place.

So where exactly is the challenge? Well it's not the same in every part of the labour market. The economy is growing. Confidence has returned. Unemployment is falling. It's good news for almost everyone.

The one area of the labour market that is still going backwards is youth employment. Jobs are emerging everywhere - except for young people.

My message to you this morning is about young people. We have to focus on tackling youth unemployment. That has got to be our priority, in Wandsworth, in London, and across the country.

So what needs to happen?

I think there's still an issue about perception of the construction industry - about our working environment and the pay. Construction is seen as unpredictable and cyclical - one of the first industries to suffer in a recession, and the last to recover.

Apprenticeships also lose out to contract labour. With contract labour the employer gets greater flexibility to cope with fluctuations in the market; whereas apprentices are non-contract, PAYE.

This means we have to get out there and tell young people in Wandsworth that a career in the construction industry is secure. It offers good pay and good prospects.

We also need to create more job security for them; and incentivise contractors. Why not make apprentices a condition, just like they've done with BIM.

I also think developers should work together more on the issue of jobs for young people. Why don't residential and commercial developers deliver a coordinated youth employment strategy? It's an obvious area for collaboration.

Now, overall, Berkeley supported 16,000 jobs last year. Every home we built sustained 4.5 jobs. But my question is how much this is helping tackle youth unemployment.

Nearly one in five young people is unemployed in Britain. Over 100,000 18 to 24-year-olds have been unemployed for more than two years. Those are terrible statistics. It scars young people, and it's a scar on our communities.

Part of our response is delivered through the Berkeley Foundation. We support a programme called Street Elite. This works with young people on the edge of gangs and crimes. It's a 9 month programme that uses sport to get them back into work or education.

In the last 2 years it's had a 79% success rate. At a cost of just over £3,000 a person. And we're just about to start running the project on the Roehampton estate.

Street Elite has taught us a few things about working with young people who've got involved in gangs and trouble. They need sustained, intensive support. You have to think in terms of small numbers and high impact.

And business can help in all sorts of ways - not just funding. We offer everyone who completes the programme a 2 week placement with the Berkeley Group. And if they impress, we take them on full time. There are 5 Street Elite graduates on permanent contracts in Berkeley now. All of them with a criminal justice background of one sort or the other.

So to conclude - I hope that shows we are serious about jobs as well as housing. Placemaking demands both.

I want to applaud this event. It shows a lot of foresight on the part of Ravi and his team. Whatever we can do to help, we will. And I would urge you to focus on helping young people.

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