Partnerships are the right groups to bind together local employers and FE, says David Frost
The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement makes it clear that local enterprise partnerships are being positioned as the body to drive forward local economic growth.
There is a growing understanding at the heart of government that while it has a responsibility to set a strategy for national economic growth, it should be left to local business and civic leaders to determine the obstacles that inhibit growth at a local level, and then work with local partners to remove those barriers.
LEPs understand the strengths and weaknesses of their economies and their local communities, which means that key policy decisions can be made locally.
The skills issue, particularly employability skills, is at the heart of their agenda and they will have a new and clear role in setting strategies for their area. Chartered status for FE colleges and providers will be dependent on having taken account of the skills priorities of LEPs.
In addition, the government will encourage LEPs to have a seat on colleges’ governing bodies, with colleges represented on LEP boards.
LEPs will also be able to determine how the EU Common Strategic Framework funds, including the European Social Fund, are used locally and, where appropriate, they will be able to bring bidders together to access the expanded £340m Employer Ownership Pilot.
The current structures are not delivering the skills that employers need”
Many LEPs are already working closely with their FE sector and local employment and skills boards, and work closely with providers and colleges to form strategies. This will ensure that local people have the skills they need to access local jobs . . . and local business have the local labour force to meet their future needs.
Many boards are currently undertaking a skills audit as any decisions must be based on evidence. It will also be important for them to be able to work in a way which has the most impact locally.
Again, I have been encouraged by innovation in FE. The new freedoms to recruit at 14 and to sponsor academies, studio schools and UTCs, have enabled the more forward thinking to position themselves at the heart of local education. The Gazelle group is driving forward the entrepreneurship agenda.
In difficult economic times, we must ensure that we spend every pound wisely. That means that as much as possible hits the ground and is not soaked up in a bureaucracy that could all too easily swamp skills delivery.
This country has had a dysfunctional skills system for too long. Despite the billions that have been spent over the past decade, too many employers say that the current structures are not delivering the skills that they need.
And too many say that, even in a time of high unemployment, they have jobs that they cannot fill.
The recent announcements are a start in building a system that binds together local employers and wider FE for the benefit of local communities.
Importantly, there is a real urgency and desire to sort out the problem of skills, once and for all.
David Frost CBE is chair
of the LEP Network