Council powers ‘should merge’ with SFA, EFA and DWP to form a new skills service, says local authority body

The Local Government Association (LGA) has called for a “joined-up employment and skills service” formed of powers from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Skills Funding Agency, the Education Funding Agency and councils.

Its report, Investing in our nation’s future: the first 100 days of the next government, says the the move would “stop people falling through the cracks between current fragmented programmes and to reduce long-term unemployment by a third”.

The LGA has called on the party that wins next year’s general election to announce the move in a Public Services Bill in the first post-election Queen’s speech.

It also called on the new chancellor, in their first budget, to “give every 16 to 24-year-old the advice, skills and experience to contribute to the local economy and halve youth unemployment by consolidating and devolving the range of funding to councils through a locally-led youth transition service”.

The report further wants the new government, in its first 100 days, to “refocus employment skills and back to work support by strengthening the central role of councils and bringing together key provisions including back to work support, Universal Credit and Troubled Families”.

It also wants the government to “enable a local service to smooth young people’s transition to work by revitalising employment help through a new locally-led Youth Jobcentre, to bring together services around the needs of individuals; match training with local jobs by completing the transfer of further education funding to councils and local partners and investing in independent locally-commissioned careers advice; and, boost teenage participation in education and training to an all-time high by devolving under-performing national youth engagement schemes to councils”.

Incoming chair of the local government association David Sparks described the report as “offering the next government a ready-made, fully-costed, long-term answer to the hard questions they will face when the dust settles on May 8, 2015”.

“These significant proposals include councils being at the forefront of tackling the growing skills crisis,” he said.

“The current system for getting the unemployed into work needs radical reform. Hundreds of thousands of people — a lost generation — are being let down and sucked into an unemployment twilight zone, through no fault of their own.

“Councils are doing everything they can but the current system is a maze of fragmented and overlapping schemes. The solution is to ensure councils can target training and employment funds, and join up with services such as jobs centres.

“Local authorities — not central government — best understand the needs of their residents and how to address their skills needs.”

He added that everyone “from the older generation to the 10-year-olds sitting in classrooms” would be affected by the “broken system”.

However, the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education (Niace) said the report was too focussed on developing skills and employment hopes among young people.

Tom Stannard, Niace deputy chief executive, said: “There is a lot to welcome in the LGA’s report, especially calls to match training with local jobs and to refocus on employment skills and back to work support.

“However, a number of the proposals focus on younger people and boosting teenage participation in education and training.

“As important as this may be, there will be 13.5 million job vacancies over the next decade, but only seven million young people entering the labour market — skilled adults will need to fill that gap.

“Longer working lives are a reality which we need to tackle and benefit from. To address current and future skills shortages we must recognise the talent and potential of older people.

“But we need to go even further to deliver a skills-led recovery which makes the most of greater longevity.”