Funding fears as leps document reveals ‘relationship’ requirement

Colleges could lose out on funding if local enterprise partnerships (Leps) don’t engage with them, Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel has warned after
the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) published new guidance.

In a document entitled Local Enterprise Partnerships: increasing their influence on skills budgets, the SFA said future funding agreements would require colleges to demonstrate a relationship with their Lep. It also says that Leps will get a say in how additional growth funding is allocated.

But Mr Doel warned that colleges that had tried and failed to engage with Leps because of a lack of interest from the Leps could lose out on funding. He said: “It is well recognised that the capacity of Leps to engage in this activity is variable as is their level of interest, despite the determined effort of colleges to engage.

“It is also important to ensure that this work does not develop into an overly bureaucratic exercise that consumes scarce resources in detailed planning that is a poor fit for the complex, multi-layered and rapidly changing needs of a modern economy at the local, sub-regional, regional and national levels; colleges have a role to play at all of these levels and work with many stakeholders and to many other imperatives as well as Leps.

“However, colleges should not be punished financially because their Lep does not engage with them, or because the Lep identifies and chooses to fund other local priorities, such as roads or buses.”

The release of the document comes after Ofsted’s annual report on FE and skills for 2013/14 raised concerns that Leps were “not collaborating sufficiently to ensure that vocational training is planned to help reduce skills shortages”.

In 2012, an AoC report set out the “need to improve the conditions for more meaningful engagement” between Leps and colleges after it identified issues in the first year of the new organisations’ existence. But last year, Mr Doel told FE Week that “all but two” of the Leps were now engaged with local colleges.

Nevertheless, as well as encouraging Lep representatives to join governing boards in their areas, the SFA document also invites Lep input into the SFA’s review and allocation process for underspends. Leps will also be asked to assist and support procurement activities, it says.

South East Midlands Lep chair Dr Ann Limb (pictured), speaking on behalf of the LEP Network Management Board, welcomed the document and the powers it laid out for Leps.

She said “This report is both welcome and timely. It clarifies in detail the helpful role SFA can play at both national and local levels in ensuring employers skills needs are met.

“It offers an overarching framework which should encourage consistency of delivery with opportunities for local flexibility and innovation. It will guide Leps in their discussions with FE colleges and training providers in setting local economic and skills priorities.”