Local Enterprise Partnerships to get college co-operation sweeteners

Business Secretary Vince Cable has named three local enterprise partnerships to pilot a sweetener scheme aimed at improving relationships between colleges and local enterprise partnerships.

Partnerships in the North East, Stoke and Staffordshire, and also the West of England have been chosen for the Skills Funding Agency-backed trial to incentivise co-operation.

“I can announce an initiative that will design clear incentives for skills providers and partnerships to forge active partnerships, so people acquire the skills required to get local jobs,” said Dr Cable in a speech at the annual Local Government Association conference in Manchester yesterday.

“We have already set out the important role that partnerships must play in setting strategic plans for skills which reflect local priorities.

“Now, in the pilots we’re about to run, I will ask the agency to put in place powerful incentives to encourage partnerships to work with FE colleges to deliver the courses that the local labour market demands.”

The move follows a report from the Association of Colleges in September called Local Enterprise Partnerships and Colleges that revealed “patchy” engagement between the two.

Julian Gravatt, association assistant chief executive, said at the time: “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.”

However, Dr Cable said the incentive scheme showed central government was “acting”.

And the North East partnership had been “particularly supportive” of the scheme, he said.

“It has the potential to give partnerhips real teeth,” added Dr Cable.

“It’s a solid example of central government listening to what localities are saying and then acting on innovative ideas.”

Andrew Hodgson, North East partnership board member, welcomed the pilot.

“We have put the focus firmly on skills from the outset, and this model will be hugely important in helping to develop skills at every level, essential to the development of individual people, as well as economic performance,” he said.

“Effective skills and training programmes tailored to fit our area’s key sectors, for all ages of workers, answer the immediate needs of employers as well as the future demands of our local economy.”

Stoke-on-Trent City Council leader Mohammed Pervez said: “For some time, councils, businesses, colleges and universities across the area have been pioneering work to match workforce skills with business needs both now and in the years ahead.

“Our perseverance and commitment to work together to address this problem has clearly paid off and we welcome this financial show of support to accelerate the work we are doing.”

No one from the West of England partnership was available for comment.

A government spokesperson told FE Week that timescales and further details of he scheme were “yet to be finalised”.

The move follows the creation of a single pot of cash, in response to Lord Heseltine’s review No Stone Unturned, to support investment and stimulate growth across local areas.

In last week’s Spending Review, £2bn a-year was pledged to partnerships through the new Single Local Growth Fund announced by Chancellor George Osborne.