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Skills shortage a 'worry' for London, deputy mayor admits

The shortage of skilled workers to deliver construction projects in the capital is a “worry” for City Hall, one of London mayor Boris Johnson’s closest aides has admitted.

Deputy mayor for policy and planning Sir Edward Lister said the “model is broken” for providing training and admitted the shortage of skills “does worry us immensely”, speaking at London First’s Infrastructure Summit.

“Jobs are going to people from outside London or outside the UK,” Sir Edward told delegates. “I am one who believes the current model is broken in providing the skills we need as a city.”

“The industry is changing and our system at the moment is not creating people with the skills we need.”

He added: “We have got to move away from a system where kids choose courses, to one where providers are paid based on the jobs kids get when they finish the course.”

Speaking at the same event, Crossrail chairman Terry Morgan said it would be “unforgivable” for London to call for more investment in infrastructure and not invest in training to provide the skills the economy needs.

To date, the £15bn Crossrail project has taken on more than 420 apprentices, 40 per cent of whom were not in employment, education or training (NEET) before they started working for Crossrail, Mr Morgan added.

He welcomed the government’s intention to ask contractors to prove their commitment to skills and training in order to pre qualify for major infrastructure projects from 1 April 2015.

Sir Neville Sims said that on the Thames Tideway Tunnel, one in every 50 employees would be an apprentice and that the project was also appealing to women with return-to-work opportunities.

Sir Edward also spoke about the need to devolve more tax collection and administration powers to the London mayor to secure certainty of funding for future infrastructure investment.

He said: “At the moment we get various grants and if you total all of those up they come to the same as [London’s] property tax.

“It is the same amount of money, but we need continuity of funding.

“Governments come and governments go. We need continuity of knowing we can plan for the long-term.”

Speaking at the same event, LSE London director Tony Travers said that London needed “the wherewithal to deliver the projects that London can deliver [without capital grants] if it needs to”.

“London needs to be able to capture and reinvest its own tax yield,” he said.

Mr Travers warned that after the election, power deals with minority nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could be “anti-London”.

“Immediately after the election, if not before, London First and TfL need to lobby very hard to have the machinery to [reinvest in infrastructure].

“If London is to continue to be able to cope with population increases, we need MPs and the current mayor and the future mayor to fight for London’s interests.”

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