Retreads for Longbridge

May 5, 2000

Education and health chiefs in Birmingham have urged ministers to consider a scheme for universities and colleges to retrain up to 2,000 Longbridge workers as "paraprofessionals" in schools and hospitals.

Tim Brighouse, the city's chief education officer, is urgently seeking meetings at Westminster and Whitehall to discuss the proposals to give "economic earthquake" areas such as Longbridge a kick start with a Pounds 25 million training grant.

The money would be used to provide professional training for redundant workers in jobs that are likely to boost the economic health and infrastructure of a crisis-struck region.

Professor Brighouse has suggested, for instance, that if Longbridge workers were laid off then many could be retrained as classroom "learning assistants".

Extra money that the government was already planning to spend on education and health over ten years could be front-loaded in a region and tapered so the grant would fall by 10 per cent each year.

This would pay for training in universities and colleges, which would account for half of the trainees' time in the first year, falling in each following year.

As well as boosting skills in professional areas where there are recruitment shortages, Professor Brighouse believes the scheme would save public money by significantly reducing the cost of benefits in the event of redundancies on the scale expected at Longbridge should rescue plans fail.

The idea won backing this week from Michael Wright, vice-chancellor at Aston University and a member of the Longbridge regeneration task force, which has estimated that up to 55,000 jobs could be affected by the crisis.

He said: "The idea ought to be a runner. Of course, it all depends on the outcome of the current talks. But there may be an opportunity to retrain people relatively quickly to fill a regional need."

The task force has proposed that any Longbridge workers made redundant and currently on part-time education and training courses could be quickly converted to full-time programmes.

In the medium to long term, the potential for development of high technology industries and possibly a science park might also be explored, although under present circumstances it would be premature to consider such a move, Professor Wright said.

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