Chancellor George Osborne and the leaders of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) signed The Greater Manchester Agreement in November. The devolution agreement, and its impact on the region’s FE and skills budget, is assessed by Lisa O’Loughlin.

From the Government’s point of view, The Greater Manchester Agreement is a major step towards creating a “Northern Powerhouse”, and it has stressed that the deal includes Greater Manchester having its own directly-elected Mayor with powers over transport, planning, policing and skills.

The proposals also include devolving further powers to the GMCA over support for business growth, skills and joined-up health and social care budgets.

This agreement is not based on the same model as London. There will be a transition period of about two years and then, when legislation is passed and direct elections, which are scheduled for 2017, take place the scope of the Mayor’s powers will be more extensive than in the capital, covering policing and other social issues.

But, at the same time, in recognition of the 10 areas and their local authorities in GMCA, there will be a much more collegiate approach, with the Mayor working alongside each authority’s representatives. So it’s important to realise there will be powers that remain with the ten authorities combined into GMCAawith the Mayor as an equal partner, and others that will be specifically for the Mayor.

It is up to The Manchester College, and all of Greater Manchester’s skills providers, to get stuck in

The agreement means that the GMCA will, in effect, be a team of 11 rather than the existing 10, with the Mayor acting as leader and chair with a huge area of devolved powers and funding covering matters such as business support budgets, integration of health and social care across the city region, the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers (AGE) and, crucially for us, the power and funding to re-shape and re-structure FE provision in Greater Manchester.

Those powers and funding for skills will already be devolved to the GMCA during the transitional period, in which the Mayor will be appointed rather than directly elected.

This is recognition by the Government of Greater Manchester’s desire to shape skills provision to deliver the needs of its economy.

We are going to play our full part in working with GMCA and Whitehall to re-shape and re-structure skills provision within Greater Manchester so that a new, forward-looking skills system is in place by 2017, with FE and The Manchester College at its heart.

The college is well-placed to take full advantage of these new powers and devolved funding since we have already done a lot of work aligning our curriculum with the needs of employers.

GMCA will also assume responsibility for AGE which will enable the combined authority to refocus incentives or vary the level of financial support available to different types of learner, sizes of business and subject areas in apprenticeships, for example, according to local need.

We’ll be more able to respond to labour market need and economic priorities. There will be a recommissioning process led by GMCA and the Government (Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Department for Education, Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency) which will identify the future shape and funding (including pricing of adult skills budget courses) of FE provision in the Greater Manchester city region.

We realise that any change needs to be cost neutral, but that’s OK — what matters is that the money is spent where it can make most impact on our employers’ and learners’ economic prospects.

The process started in December and will run throughout the 2015 Spending Review so that we can all start to deliver a revised curriculum offer from 2017.

It happened in GM first because of the foundations laid by long-standing and productive co-operation between the 10 local authorities, but there is no reason in principle that the same sort of agreement couldn’t be reached in other large city regions.

Devolution of powers and funding is something that wins support across the political spectrum, and it is up to The Manchester College, and all of Greater Manchester’s skills providers, to get stuck in and proactively make the new world work to the advantage of our economies and communities.