Preston's plan to ensure developers use the local labour they promise
The companies building the largest housing and commercial developments in Preston will be monitored to ensure that they are sticking to their promises about employing and training local people - and they will be required to pay for the privilege.
Preston City Council has become the first local authority in the North of England to introduce a compulsory check-up on whether firms are honouring the commitments they make when seeking planning permission.
Cabinet member for planning and regulation David Borrow told the Lancashire Post that the move will improve “the rigour” of the current process.
“In the past, [companies] have said, ‘We’ll do this and we’ll do that’ - but there has not been [an] assessment of the actual scheme and this [policy] puts that in place,” he explained.
Applicants for residential estates of 30 or more homes or commercial schemes over 1,000 square metres in size are already required to submit an employment and skills statement (ESS), which sets out pledges in relation to using local labour - particularly from disadvantaged groups - and offering apprenticeships, workforce training and work experience.
The document - which also includes details of how many local companies are expected to be contracted in the construction process - is assessed by the council to determine the “social value” offered by a particular development.
However, under the system now approved by the authority’s cabinet, applicants will be required to pay £250 to have their ESS examined by an external company - Calico Limited - which will advise whether the commitments are “relevant, proportionate, and measurable”. Applicants will then have the opportunity to amend the statement on the basis of that feedback, before the council decides how to proceed.
If planning permission is granted, Calico will then monitor whether the pledges are being upheld - and support developers and their contractors to ensure that they are, including by carrying out spot checks on site.
This work will also be funded by the applicants themselves, who will be charged between £6,000 and £16,500 on housing developments, depending on their scale - and £8,500 for commercial sites of up to 8,500 square metres in size and a price quoted on application for larger non-residential plots.
Cllr Borrow said that he believes companies will be “amenable” to the approach being taken by the council because of a current shortage of construction workers - and that it will make a particular difference on developments being undertaken by companies from outside Lancashire.
“It does emphasise the need to recruit people locally and give them the proper training. [Companies] are having to recruit and want skilled workers anyway - so why wouldn't [they] do a good job?
“If you've got a local company that’s coming off one building site straight onto another, they've probably got local construction workers and a scheme to train [them].
“But if you've got a company coming from, say, Birmingham, to build an estate in Preston, that’s the point at which you want them to start thinking about how [they] recruit locally and have a good training package in place.
“It fits in with the approach we are promoting for public sector bodies [to use] the powers that they have got to help build up the economy.
“The more we can encourage people to develop good policies on local recruitment and training, the better,” said Cllr Borrow, who was speaking shortly before the cabinet meeting at which the new measures were approved.
Papers presented to that meeting stated that there was a need to encourage a “post-pandemic economic recovery, particularly targeted towards people in deprived communities to encourage equality in participation in economic and educational opportunities”.
Employment and skills statements have been required on the largest developments by all three of Central Lancashire’s authorities - Preston, Chorley and South Ribble - since 2017 as part of a supplementary planning document agreed by the three councils.
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