Local enterprise partnerships shun ‘fantastic’ resource, says AoC

Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) are failing to take advantage of the “fantastic” education resources offered by colleges, the Association of Colleges (AoC) has claimed.

An association report has revealed “patchy” engagement between the two, with a lack of college representation on the 39 partnership boards and a lack of understanding of the role FE plays in economic growth – particularly in terms of engagement with employers and community.

The report, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Colleges, says: “The research identifies that the level and extent of engagement is still very patchy.”

The partnership model was formed in 2011 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to help to determine local economic priorities, and lead economic growth.

Julian Gravatt, AoC assistant chief executive, said: “Successful partnerships understand the importance of skills and the role of colleges but, disappointingly, the majority still have work to do to tap into this fantastic resource.”

The report highlighted the Gloucestershire partnership, GFirst, as an example of good practice. Established in June last year, it is supported by nine industry sector groups, each with skills sections in their business plans.

It also said that Tees Valley Unlimited and a partnership in Hertfordshire had a strategic commitment to skills.

Sue Hannan, employment, learning and skills manager at Tees Valley Unlimited, said: “We work closely at a strategic level with local colleges, both directly and through the AoC.

“Our team meet regularly with representatives of our local colleges, as well as other training providers who we consider to be key stakeholders in delivering our ambitions.

“We promote apprenticeships to learners and employers alike, and are involved in a number of initiatives to create new starts”

A Hertfordshire partnership spokesperson said: “We will play an influential role with businesses, colleges, universities and private providers to improve the skills of the existing workforce and those of young people entering the workforce.

“In particular, we want to better match skills to business needs.”

Mr Gravatt said most colleges were focused on local economic development and could make a great contribution to the work of partnerships.”More often than not colleges play a central role in their local community beyond education and skills,” he said.

“To get the best results the relationship between partnerships and colleges needs to be a two-way street.”