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House of Commons Hansard
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2012 Olympics (Employment)
09 March 2010
Volume 507

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I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce a debate on a matter that is important to me, my constituents and everyone in the east end of London: the level of local employment at the Olympic park. This year—2010—is crucial for construction at the park. It is already the biggest construction site in Europe, with 9,000 workers employed there. Building work is set to accelerate this year, and the work force will grow to 11,000. The Olympic Delivery Authority estimates that 30,000 workers will have worked at the Olympic park alone between 2005 and 2012.

Hon. Members will realise that while we are still coming out of the credit crunch, that windfall of jobs represents a tremendous opportunity for the adjoining boroughs in the east of London and the country as a whole. Unemployment in Hackney means that we have a particular focus on the issue, and I have raised it consistently for more than two years. I raised it over and again with the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, and I secured an Adjournment debate on it two years ago. In private and public meetings, I have stressed the importance of ensuring that my constituents and the people of the east end generally are given a fair proportion of the thousands of skilled jobs that will become and are becoming available at the Olympic park.

Hon. Members will be interested to hear that I visited the site in Stratford this morning and met, among others, Lorraine Martin, the ODA’s head of employment skills, equality and inclusion. The burden of my comments will be about employment, but I was impressed by the progress being made at the Olympic park and to see the buildings taking shape. I have no doubt that 2012 will be a wonderful and spectacular event for Londoners. However, I am obliged to look beyond what happens at the Olympics and to consider the long-term effects for my constituents. Having met top people at the ODA this morning, I am reasonably confident that the figures that I will set out are correct.

The Olympics are of national significance—they are a national event. They are hugely important to everyone throughout the country, and everyone should look for economic regeneration effects from them. However, Londoners in particular are contributing to the Olympics, and we were sold the idea of hosting them on the understanding that as well as being an amazing, historic sporting event, they would provide the opportunity for regeneration in a part of London that has historically not had the jobs and investment of west London and the outer boroughs. The 2012 games represent the single biggest opportunity in recent history to enable us to realise the long dreamt of regeneration of the east end.

I hope that no one doubts that the area is in need. Hackney is one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. Unemployment rates are higher than the UK average, and in the wards closest to the Olympic site, claims for jobseeker’s allowance are nearly twice the London average. Hackney and the Olympic boroughs are young boroughs, and youth employment is a problem in all of them. It is high in Hackney, where the percentage of young people not in education, employment or training—NEETs—is about 10 per cent. The latest figures show that 2,145 people aged 16 to 24 are claiming jobseeker’s allowance in Hackney, and I emphasise that Hackney’s recorded figures for unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, do not capture the large number of young people who do not engage with the authorities.

Given the economic context, the problems in the economy overall, and the need in the adjoining boroughs for jobs and regeneration, it is important that the Olympics leave the east of London and its people genuinely regenerated. Perhaps the most important way of doing so, apart from through infrastructure improvements, is by boosting local employment, which in turn will boost the local economy, local housing and local morale, and deal with the underlying causes of crime, and the gang and knife culture that we have so often discussed in this Chamber.

The Minister will be aware of the latest figures, but I will set them out. The recent ODA figures reveal that 6,277 people are working at the Olympic park, of whom 20 per cent.—some 1,230—are registered as living in one of the five Olympic boroughs. Already, 20 per cent. is on the low side, but the breakdown of the figures will show the Minister why I am so alarmed. Seven per cent., or 439 workers, are registered at an address in Newham, while just 4 per cent., or 250, are registered in Greenwich and Waltham Forest. Only 3 per cent., or 188 workers, are from Tower Hamlets, and 2 per cent. of local workers at the Olympic park are from Hackney—just 2 per cent., or 126.

Hackney—the constituency that I am privileged to represent—has the lowest number of workers employed at the Olympic site. It has half the number from Greenwich and Waltham Forest, and more than three times fewer than Newham. Hackney has consistently had the lowest number of workers at the site since I first engaged with the issue, yet Hackney houses part of the Olympic park. One third of it falls within our boundaries, and local residents have made sacrifices to make the Olympics happen. Houses have been demolished, businesses have been uprooted, and communities have had to put up with the noise and disturbance of building work. Although people have sometimes put up a fight, the general consensus in Hackney is that the Olympics will be worth the sacrifice in the long run, not just because they will be a spectacular event, but because of the long-term benefits for the area.

If we drill down into the statistics, they become even more depressing. The park is situated just a few miles from the City of London and in an area with a high number of working-age people, so we should be pushing more, given that the opportunity is on the doorstep of the east end. The employment figures quoted by the ODA are widely circulated, but they take into account only the workers at the Olympic park. When one tours the park, as I did this morning, one is shown the Olympic village as a matter of course, but there are no figures for the number of local people working at the Olympic village, although 2,887 people are working there—nearly half the number working on the park proper. There are no statistics showing where they come from or their race and ethnicity. It is as if we are supposed to believe that the 2,887 people working at the Olympic village come from nowhere.

It is not acceptable that we lack a proper breakdown of the people working at the Olympic village by gender, race and locality, because for most people—and certainly for my tour guide this morning—it is an integral part of the Olympic park. I urge the Minister to ensure that, in future, employment figures for the Olympics take account of not just the park, but the village.

Apart from the unfathomable exclusion of information about people working on the housing, I also want to raise the definition of a local resident. The ODA defines a local resident as someone who declares a permanent address that is in one of the five host boroughs. However, the authority does not require the worker to have lived in that borough for a minimum period of time before they can be classed as a resident. Pathetic though the figures for Hackney employees on the Olympic park are, as I have said, many local people believe that they overstate the position because they include workers living in houses in multiple occupation who moved to Hackney specifically to work on the park.

Another issue surrounding employment on the Olympic park cuts across some of the processes and aims that the ODA has told me about for more than two years. As contractors moved on to the park but building work on their other sites across London slowed, finished or was halted because of the credit crunch, those contractors simply switched their work forces to the Olympic park. Therefore, the number of jobs that are vacant on the Olympic park is much smaller than the overall employment figures would suggest. Even at this late stage, I would like Ministers to put more pressure on construction and fitting-out companies to fill a specific quota of jobs from the local area.

Over the past year, the work on the Olympic park has changed from earth moving and large-scale construction to a fitting-out stage requiring the employment of builders, carpenters, plasters, electricians and other skilled tradesmen. It is simply not correct to say that those tradesmen are not available in the east end of London, and it would be appropriate to have more focus on filling the jobs associated with the fitting-out stage with people drawn from the east end.

The ODA’s definition of a worker is somebody who spends at least five days working on the Olympic park. That means that a number of the workers counted in the figures, including some of those from Hackney, might include people who have moved on and no longer work on the site. Although it is commendable that the ODA has produced some figures, we have reached a point at which those figures create more confusion than light. The authority needs to go back and look at some of its record keeping so that we can have transparency about the issues that concern me and my constituents.

I want to touch on issues relating to women and ethnic minorities. Although the ODA’s benchmark is to have 11 per cent. of women in the work force, it has achieved a figure of only 6 per cent. Years ago, when I worked for the Greater London council, we showed the way in proving that there were ways in which women could be brought into traditionally male jobs such as carpentry or building. I do not think that the ODA is making enough effort in that regard.

I consulted my constituents before working on this speech, and a number expressed concern that there had not been a sufficiently large push for female employment. Some suggested that the ODA should hold women-only recruitment days, which to my knowledge has not been tried. Others suggested a particular push on training women to do traditionally male jobs. A number of people suggested having better child care on the site, and another suggestion, which I hope that Ministers would welcome, was to have an equal pay audit on the site to examine the pay differentials between men and women. I have mentioned several of the targets set by the ODA mainly to show that it does not meet some of its own targets, and the number of female employees is one example of that. None the less, I feel that the targets lack ambition, for example the ODA’s target on employing local workers of only 15 per cent.

I will move on to another important issue. Overall, the figures for the number of local people employed on the Olympic park are poor and disappointing, and the low proportion of local young people who have found positions as apprentices on the Olympic site is a scandal. When it comes to skilled workers, it could be argued that there might be a skills gap in some of the Olympic boroughs. There has been a lot of talk and action on training, but when it comes to apprenticeships, the skills gap argument does not apply. Young people are brought in and trained, and the figures that I have seen on the number of proper construction apprenticeships on the Olympic site show that, overall, 37 per cent. of apprentices on the Olympic site come from the Olympic boroughs. However, when it comes to Hackney, there is a handful of young people, and I do not think that that is acceptable. It is unacceptable to argue that there should be the same proportion of apprenticeships as of people doing fully-skilled jobs, because it is so much easier to recruit apprentices locally than skilled men. In Hackney, the ODA has not even met its target, which is a betrayal of the young people of the east end.

I understand that there are currently 150 apprentices working on the site. The target was supposed to be 350, but it seems unlikely that the ODA will meet it because it takes three years to train a construction apprentice and there are only 18 to 20 months of building work left on the site. Popular media sources point out that each apprentice on the Olympic site has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds. If we are going to invest that much money in apprentices, why do we not target some of the most deprived young people in the country—those of the east end and the Olympic boroughs? Some suggest that the problem is that young people are not interested in construction, but wherever I go in Hackney, young people ask about the possibility of finding jobs on the Olympic park.

My constituent, Geoff Joab, lives one mile away from the Olympic park in Stoke Newington. He has all the necessary construction skills needed for a job on the park, and one would expect him to be able to get work. He is now in his fourth month of unemployment, despite having signed up for job brokerage nearly two years ago. After calling and calling On Site, his brokerage service, and being told that there was no job for him, he found that it had lost his file and he has had to start over again. My constituents come to me with such experiences time after time. I regard what is being done—albeit often by very nice people—by the brokerage companies in terms of outturn with some scepticism. As I said earlier, the problem lies partly with those construction companies that move established sub-contractors to the Olympic site rather than employing new staff.

I have been fortunate over the past week to attend events with young Hackney people. I attended the annual award ceremony at Hackney community college, which had a theme based around the values of the Olympics. The young people receiving the awards that night embodied those principles of determination, integrity and friendship. However, I was surprised when the principal of the college voiced concerns about having to make cuts in his construction course. On the one hand, the ODA tells me that people in the east end of London do not have the skills, while on the other hand, local colleges are being forced to cut proper construction courses. It is as if one hand does not know what the other is doing about regeneration and employment on the Olympic park.

I also met three female graduates of the construction programme this week. Kelly Drake, Alannah Bascombe and Janine Griffiths are among the 9,000 working on the site. They are waving the banner not only for Hackney, but for female workers. Much more needs to be done if other students are to follow in their footsteps.

I have also met half a dozen young Olympic legacy champions from Hackney community college and BSix college in Stoke Newington. Those students are picked from nine colleges in the five Olympic boroughs. They put themselves forward as candidates and they are tasked with promoting the Olympics among young people. What issue did they raise with me? Jobs. Even though they are the so-called legacy champions, they, too, did not understand how they would benefit in practical ways, such as through jobs.

I shall briefly set out several issues that my constituents raised when I asked them what I should say in this debate—perhaps the Minister can write to me about them. First, they are very concerned about the need for affordable housing in the east end, so they want to know whether Olympic village property will be available for first-time buyers. Secondly, how many local market traders—this is a big issue in Hackney—will be trained up and supported to populate the section of the park designed for local suppliers of goods? Thirdly, how soon after the Olympics are over will the park be made available to the public? Additionally, my constituents are concerned about increased surveillance in the park.

Even 18 months before the construction phase closes, there are practical things that the Government can do so that my young people, in particular, can access the apprenticeships that they deserve and so that my skilled men can have some hope of getting the jobs that they are trained for and anxious to do. We need to set targets for the contractors on a minimum quota of local people and to consider whether more money is needed, perhaps through a training levy.

We need to improve and upgrade the statistics that the ODA is producing, including on job brokerages putting people into jobs on the Olympic site. When I visited my local job brokerage, I was told, after a bit of humming and hawing, that the figures were for the total number of people it was putting into jobs, not just those on the Olympic site, so the figures are lower than they might seem. The ODA needs to look at how it ascertains whether people are truly local—perhaps by asking where people went to school—and it should have more challenging targets.

I have been raising this subject in private and in public, and on the Floor of the House and in Committee Rooms, for two years. I have raised it with such persistence because I believe that this sort of opportunity will not come again. The low number of Hackney people on the Olympic site is a scandal, and it is not even commensurate with any supposed skills gap among Hackney people. In particular, there is the issue of the handful of Hackney’s young people who have managed to get apprenticeships. Apprenticeships can mean a great deal for precisely the type of young people whom I met at Hackney community college and BSix college.

The low levels of local employment and the pathetically low levels of Hackney people with apprenticeships mean that, even with all the other issues that the Minister has to consider on the Olympics, we must once again focus on employment. When the Olympics are over, and the circus, noise, glamour and international attention has passed by, we need to ensure that local people can see that they have gained something and are not being left to slide back into hopelessness and unemployment.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on securing the debate. Like other Members who represent the five Olympic boroughs, she has been a passionate champion of the people whom she represents and, particularly, of opportunities to improve the employment prospects of young people.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend and I would like to say two or three things in the short time available. She should not for one moment doubt the commitment and determination of the ODA, the Government Olympic Executive, this Minister and all those associated with the development of the great Olympic project that the young people whom she represents, and about whom she is so concerned, should have prospects for a better future, long-term employment and skilled jobs as a result of the Olympics. That is important in the context of 40 per cent. of the working-age population of the five boroughs being unemployed, and of 25 per cent. of the population of the host borough having no educational qualifications at all. It was precisely because of that level of deprivation that it was decided that, if we won the right to hold the Olympics, we would host them in east London to secure two legacy ambitions: first, a general ambition about sport and young people; and, secondly, the very specific ambition for the regeneration of east London.

The regeneration involves both a hard and a soft legacy. My hon. Friend saw the hard legacy this morning, as does every person who visits the park, but the second aspect is the soft legacy, which will enable us to look back after the Olympics and say, “Hosting the Olympic and Paralympic games changed the economy of those five boroughs and the opportunities available to the people who live there.” My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a degree of sacrifice for local people living in the five boroughs, and we owe it to them to ensure that their upheaval is worth while.

It is in the DNA of the ODA to make sure that employment opportunities and local employment are maximised, while being highly purposeful in ensuring that contracts go to the whole country. As has been evidenced, apprentices have been recruited—three and a half times the industry average—and most will complete their training by 2012.

There will also be a legacy of training. The skills academy—it was called the digger school—which has now relocated to Beckton, will continue to train apprentices after the Olympics, thus ensuring that the face of the construction industry begins to change. My hon. Friend and I are absolutely as one that the future face of the construction industry should be more female.

The ODA’s overriding responsibility is to deliver the games on time and on budget. Much of the work force, as my hon. Friend rightly said, is brought in by contractors from other parts of the country that are equally affected by the impact of the economic downturn. Across the country, the Olympics are either creating or maintaining levels of employment, but that is the tension. We have a construction project, but given the level of public investment and the commitment of the Government, the five boroughs and Members of Parliament, it also has an important employment objective.

My hon. Friend referred to the targets. I would resile from setting targets and prefer to rely on the ambitious benchmarks that the ODA has already set for local employment, the number of apprenticeships and the employment of women and disabled people. She made specific points about the profile of the 2,700 people working on the Olympic village. I see no reason why those figures cannot be published, so I undertake to ensure that they are.

The job brokerage service that is run by the five boroughs gives greatest priority to unemployed people living locally, and that is the means by which some 750 people have found work in the park. The process is a combination of feeding the demand for labour arising from the construction of the park and changing the nature of labour supply through our investment in apprenticeships and skills. I am encouraged by the proactive outreach initiatives adopted by the ODA, and I think that they will begin to change the number of apprentices over the next six months and give my hon. Friend a better story to tell the young people whom she represents.