What will the Wakefield district look like in 2020?
This was the focus of our first-ever major stakeholder event which was held last month at Unity Works in Wakefield. How can we make the greatest social impact? What problems will the district face? And how can we work better together with our partners?
Looking at where Wakefield is today, the situation is stark. Unemployment remains higher than the national average and not enough affordable homes are being built. Nationally we have an ageing population living with a range of complex health conditions, and a significant digital divide exists between the district and the rest of the country.
With the area facing such a diverse range of challenges, our plans need to be as bold as the task is difficult. We’re prepared to invest as much as £700 million to offer tenants and residents a better quality of life, but I’m clear that we must spend wisely and work together to get the best possible value for money.
Considering our recent work in reducing unemployment, the WDH Academy and WDH Foundation are making an impact at reducing the number of NEETs (young people not in employment, education or training). This work remains important, but to break the cycle of inter-generational joblessness we need a more robust approach that considers the whole family. Raising the aspirations of primary school pupils is another area that’s important if we’re to give more young people the confidence to gain employment.
In terms of generating more affordable housing, our recent contribution, although significant, has simply not been enough. The district needs 1,600 new homes every year to meet demand, and last year we built 294 affordable homes. Investing £650 million here will make a difference, but this money must also continue to improve our existing estates to create more vibrant communities for our tenants. We’re backing the National Housing Federation’s Homes for Britain campaign and I would suggest that everyone with a vested interest in providing more homes in Wakefield does the same.
The work of our Wellbeing Case Workers is also impressive and a lifeline to their customers. In the last five years they've supported 5,000 people. With widespread poor health across the district - 25,000 people report their health as being ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’- continuing our work with tenants is logical, but can we do more? Are our plans ambitious enough? With the help from partners, we need to explore this topic further to ensure the £30 million we have available supports a universally accepted district-wide goal.
Finally, in February this year we opened the WDH Hub, and we have plans to spend £10 million on providing our tenants with free WiFi and a tablet device so they can access online services at home. Over 60 per cent of all WDH tenants tell us they don’t have access to the internet, so whilst we’re looking at adopting a broad-brush approach, the reality is that we can’t afford for our tenants to miss out financially – especially as we prepare for the roll out of universal credit.
Looking towards 2020, I’m confident we can make a difference. But what the future will look like, none of us have a crystal ball! To drive change locally in the future, we need to put the groundwork in today.
Our stakeholder event was bold and I was delighted at the joint desire to work closer to ensure we join all the dots in the four key areas of our work – providing opportunities for all, building better places, health and wellbeing and a digital future.
Hopefully we will, because together we’ve got the expertise to write a great future for our district.