Select Committee on Work and Pensions Third Report


Touchwood and Solihull Town Centre Partnership


In 1997, an Australian based property developer ­ Lend Lease, secured the contract to redevelop a previously owned town centre civic car park site into a major retail and leisure complex, known as Touchwood. The project, which opened its doors to the public on 5th September 2001, effectively doubled overnight the town's retail capacity, and elevated Solihull from 112th to 29th in the UK's ranking of top retailing destinations. The expansion would bring over 90 new employers to the town centre and create in excess of 2,300 new retail and leisure jobs ­ nearly 1,000 of which were for the flagship John Lewis department store.

Working in Partnership

The Solihull Town Centre Partnership was established in 1999 (out of the ashes of a former Retail Chamber of Trade) in order to effectively rise and respond to the challenges that Touchwood would present. Administered by the Town Centre Management Group, the partnership has evolved and grown to over 40 current member organisations (representing many more local businesses), with a core management board including the Borough Council, key employers, property management bodies and developers, Solihull College and the Jobcentre Plus.

Jobcentre Plus is and has been at the very heart of this Town Centre Partnership, working at all levels. The local District Manager, Regional Director and Deputy Regional Director have all played an active role in overseeing the strategic development of the project and regularly participate in Partnership Board and associated meetings.

This commitment by Jobcentre Plus senior management led, during the Touchwood project's formation and development, to the region supporting and resourcing the establishment of a dedicated recruitment centre ­ separate from the town's Jobcentre. Firstly, to assist with the employment of over 800 construction workers and, more recently, to manage and fill the over 2,000 retail, hospitality and leisure vacancies within the town.

In Spring 2001, the Jobcentre Plus recruitment team worked alongside the John Lewis Partnership store's personnel team to co­ordinate, pre­screen and initially interview applicants for their 1,000 vacancies. Over 7,000 application packs were issued to jobseekers, with nearly 4,500 returned, processed, interviewed and rejected/recommended to the employer for final interview. This was an amazing achievement by the local team.

In March 2001, Jobcentre Plus seconded a full­time Recruitment Manager to the project to engage new employers moving into Touchwood, provide direct assistance to the Partnership Board and various local support agencies to identify and overcome potential barriers to employment for unemployed people (eg. transportation, training, childcare, etc.).

In the crucial 6­month period prior to Touchwood opening, Jobcentre Plus successfully managed to market, engage and secure the vacancy handling business from over 60 new employers to the town, resulting in servicing over 2,000 vacancies. Results show Jobcentre Plus can be reliably accredited in filling over 1,000 of Touchwood's retail, leisure and hospitality vacancies, 766 of which were with unemployed people, and 18.5% of these are people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

An integral feature of the Touchwood development ­ as part of the centre's management suite ­ is an innovative 'roof­top' community, employment and learning area, for which Jobcentre Plus was invited to become a key stakeholder. Labelled 'Learning & Job Shop@The Hub' it is the developer's vision to put something back into the community and "to create a centre of excellence for local learning, training and recruitment which becomes a benchmark model for all UK communities." This facility became operational last September and provides a permanent base for the outstationed recruitment team ­ enabling the central handling of all town centre job vacancies, jobseeker registrations, matching and employer marketing.

Over 420 unemployed people have so far been recruited into vacancies by this team.

The New Bull Ring, Birmingham

The Touchwood recruitment 'model' is now regarded as an exemplar of its kind, and is currently being adopted by the developers of the new Bull Ring development, which opens in Birmingham city centre in September 2003.

The new Bull Ring, currently under construction, forms the keystone development for one of the largest regeneration zone projects in Europe ­ known as Birmingham's Eastside. Covering 1.2million sq.ft. of prime site retail space the development will position Birmingham as a market leader for retailing in the UK. With over 8,000 potential vacancies ­ 2,000 of which will be for the flagship stores of Selfridges and Debenhams ­ this presents an even greater challenge for Jobcentre Plus and its partners over the coming months.

Negotiations are currently at an advanced stage with Hammersons, the developers of the new Bull Ring, to engage them with a partnership recruitment and training package to recommend to their tenants. In return, Hammersons are enabling the partnership to establish a 'Learning and Recruitment Shop' to be sited in the landmark Birmingham Rotunda building, located adjacent to the new development.

The city council economic development teams, the local Learning and Skills Council, Jobcentre Plus and its contracted local delivery partners form the core partnership team.


Both Touchwood and the new Bull Ring partnership project encapsulate the very essence of public/private partnership working at strategic and practical levels for commercial and community gains.

The case studies illustrate some of the key ways in how Jobcentre Plus ­ within Birmingham and Solihull—has and is playing a vital, 'value­added' role in strengthening partnership working arrangements, while at the same time supporting its own core business objectives and DWP values.

The GAP/Jobcentre Plus Birmingham Partnership Initiative

The partnership with GAP was formed to support the company's expanding business within the UK and also with a view to helping New Deal and other disadvantaged jobseekers train and prepare for jobs in the company. GAP have strong corporate values around diversity and equal opportunities and they are keen that their partnership with Jobcentre Plus helps them to create a workforce that reflects the diversity of the local labour markets in which they operate. To this end they have decided that Jobcentre Plus should handle their recruitment for new stores and on­going recruitment through a Service Level Agreement. The company currently employ 6,000 people in the UK and this figure is expected to double over the next five years.

The Birmingham initiative was set up to support GAP's recruitment for their new flagship store in Birmingham (which opened on 2nd November). Its aims were to ringfence up to twenty vacancies for disadvantaged jobseekers (mainly New Deal groups/lone parents/returners/disabled people) who would be supported through tailored job preparation training delivered jointly by a Jobcentre Plus approved local training provider and GAP. The training would focus on excellent customer service skills and basic management development training, two of the key features proposed for the "Ambition:Retail" initiative.

Of the twenty jobseekers who started the training programme, twelve completed it and ten have been offered jobs with GAP. All parties agree that the initiative is an excellent example of a collaborative partnership between an employer (GAP), Jobcentre Plus and a local Training Provider (Biscom Training). It delivers an innovative, tailored routeway that has helped ten disadvantaged jobseekers mainly from New Deal and lone parent backgrounds, finds jobs in the new store. In addition to the New Deal job starts. Eight jobseekers with disabilities were also helped into jobs with the company through strong links developed between GAP and the local Jobcentre Plus Disability Team. Jobcentre Plus also helped GAP fill the remainder of their 150 vacancies through supporting the company's recruitment open days.

Key Factors Contributing to Success

The majority of the trainees who completed the four week programme were severely disadvantaged and had major barriers to overcome to become "job­ready". The training therefore focussed strongly on life planning skills and included a great deal of one­to­one mentoring and coaching to help build self confidence and improve self­esteem. The vocational training took place in a GAP store; weeks 3 and 4 were led by GAP. This training centred on building excellent customer service skills and gave trainees an introduction to basic management skills for retail. GAP modified their normal recruitment assessment process so they could observe and assess trainees during the on­the­job element, thus helping to reduce the stress of facing an interview /assessment at the end of the programme.

To support trainees in preparing for work, Jobseekers Grants were made available to help them purchase new clothes for the on­the­job training. GAP provided a 30% discount on their own clothes to help trainees maximise their Grants. The Jobcentre Plus Lone Parent Advisers were also on hand throughout the programme to advise on in­work tax credits and benefits. Lone parents and returners in particular found this advice invaluable in helping them make an appropriate choice about the number of hours they could work.

During the programme, the Training Provider arranged for the local branch of Boots to give makeovers and advice to the trainees on personal presentation for retail sector careers which all trainees enjoyed and found beneficial.

GAP will also provide a structured "aftercare" process for the ten trainees recruited through this initiative to help them cope with the transition into work and ensure that they settle into their jobs and are given opportunities to progress in their careers. This will include further mentoring and coaching and formal reviews at regular intervals in the first few months of employment.

Summary of Outcomes Achieved

Ten of the twelve participants who completed the programme have been offered jobs with GAP: six of these were New Deal Lone Parents, three were from the New Deal 18­24 group and one was over 25 on short job­focussed training. Eight jobseekers with a disability were also offered jobs with the company. GAP has agreed to roll out this initiative nationally.

The next pilot will be delivered in Swansea in the early part of 2002. GAP will enter into a Service Level Agreement with Jobcentre Plus to support all of its recruitment for new stores and ongoing recruitment.

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Prepared 31 July 2002