The Budget didn’t have a lot to offer FE. It’s the spending round and possible cuts that have to stay top of the agenda, says Lynne Sedgmore

All eyes in FE were on key indicators in this year’s Budget: how might savings hit the skills budget, how much money might go into the ‘single pot’ and how might employers get funded more directly to engage in apprenticeships. On Budget Day, there was little additional detail.

So, it seems, that there is still a lot to play for. The promise of more cuts in the spending round has to remain uppermost on our agenda. Efficiency and pay restraint can only go so far. It is the adult skills budget that is most under threat.

Any reduction in funding for under 24s could lead to the reality of a lost generation through increasing youth unemployment. Sixteen to18-year-olds have the comfort of the raised participation age to protect them; the picture is less assured for the over-24s.

In response to the Richard Review, the government said that it expected employers to show their commitment through what they were prepared to pay for, and that is only right. Colleges must ensure that what they offer is attractive to employers and their adult employees to encourage this commitment.

Adults trying to fund their own learning may find themselves with more loans, and we have yet to get a real sense of the impact that this year’s loans introduction will have on adult learning take–up.

Perhaps the time has come for us to offer an alternative solution that may be more attractive than loans? Or should we make more of a case for HE funding to be reviewed to create a more level playing field for all those in education beyond 19?

We must make sure that we are the preferred choice to offer the training that new employees will need”

We know that the ‘single pot’ has two real problems. First, that skills could be fighting for precedence over potholes and houses and, second, that local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) may not be mature enough – or organised enough – to deal appropriately with this funding.

The announcement of the Witty review into how universities can offer help to LEPs is welcome – and we will all, I am sure, be pushing for the FE voice to be heard in this forum too. As the spending round materialises we must show that colleges are engaged in effective partnerships already, are strategically engaged in discussions around skills needs, and are vital to the future of the partnerships.

And if, as it seems, the employer ownership pilot model is the way that direct employer funding will go, then we need to be a key element in its success, with colleges and other FE providers featuring prominently within the supply chain, not just as deliverers of a commissioned training service, but as key players in the design and implementation of the project.

The Budget gives significant support to employers wishing to take on staff. We must make sure that we are the preferred choice to offer the training that new employees will need.

The Budget did reaffirm that the government believes apprenticeships are critical to growth, and the CBI, among others, clearly believes that the skills system we have is fit for purpose to deliver high quality training.

Our challenge now, if we are to protect the public funding that will continue to be available for adult skills development, is to demonstrate that the proposed devolution of funding can only work properly with the essential involvement of FE at every level.

Lynne Sedgmore CBE, executive director, the 157 Group