Rishi Sunak's 'national service' plan labelled 'lazy' as Mayor sets out his jobs vision

West Midlands' Mayor has dismissed Rishi Sunak's national service plan as 'lazy thinking' as he set out his vision to create thousands of new jobs and apprenticeships. Richard Parker said he wants to tackle the region's higher than national average youth unemployment and address the skills shortage which is preventing companies moving to the West Midlands.

But he raised doubts about whether the Tory election pledge of bring back national service for young people would make much of a difference to their lives, adding it would take too long to implement. Instead, Mr Parker said he wants to produce an industrial strategy which will work with businesses, councils, colleges and universities to improve prospects in the area.

He said: "My concern about the announcements the Conservative Party has made is I think it's 'lazy thinking'. I'm not too sure how much difference it's going to make to the lives of young people in this region and if anything happens, it's going to be subject to a Royal Commission review anyway. God knows how long that will take.

READ MORE: 'Listen to young people' - youth radio founder hits out at election promises

"My focus is making the biggest difference I can to people in this region as soon as possible."

One of his key pledges during his campaign to become Mayor was to create 150,000 jobs and training opportunities. Two of the biggest challenges facing the region is the number of young people unemployed and the lack of a skilled workforce preventing potential businesses from setting up here.

Youth unemployment in the West Midlands overall stands at 8.8 per cent compared with the national average of five per cent. The rate is even higher in Wolverhampton (11 per cent) and Birmingham (10 per cent). Mr Parker said providing high quality apprenticeships and opportunities will play a huge part in raising aspirations and help him meet his pledge and grow the region's economy.

Work has already started in this area this month with the new Path2Apprenticeship programme, delivered by seven independent training providers, for young people aged 19-29. The Combined Authority are investing £7.5 million in the next three years with the aim of supporting 3,300 young people getting the skills to get them into good quality apprenticeships.

Sign up and get politics news email updates in our newsletter here

He said: "We've got more young people out of work than any other region - almost twice the national average. Those issues blight people's lives. It means there are too many people on low pay and too many of those come from the poorest parts of the region.

"When I speak to employers one of their frustrations is they can't access the skills they need to grow, develop and thrive. There are examples of companies who have plans to relocate production facilities here which would have employed 2,000-3,000 people but the access to employment land and the skills they need mean they're outsourcing that to other parts of Europe.

"That is a missed opportunity and there are not too many of those we can miss. Once those companies make those decisions, it's very difficult to get them back. We've got to stop this region haemorrhaging investment and talent. We need to help shape a skills system and economy here which is interlocking and self-supporting."

He added: "We will be looking to build an industrial strategy around advanced manufacturing, life sciences, green technology, digital and cultural offers. Whilst we've got the focus on businesses and skills of the future we need, it's really important we don't overlook the core skills that underpin our economy and drive it on the ground.

"We still need things built, we still need to wire buildings, put in infrastructure and so we won't do anything that moves us away from those entry level jobs we need people to do if we are going to function. The strategy is about knitting that together."

Mr Parker said he will be working with key organisations in the business sector, councils, further education colleges and universities in a 'collaborative approach' to developing the strategy. He said: "We've got to grow our economy. I want the West Midlands to be the best place to do business in the UK."

Join our Black Country News WhatsApp community here