The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have all come in for grilling with a host of questions from FE and skills figures.

In this last of three articles, a spokesperson for Nick Clegg’s (pictured) Liberal Democrats takes the stand to answer your questions.

Business, Enterprise and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock answered yesterday for the Conservatives, while Shadow Skills Minister Liam Byrne responded for Labour this morning.


Will FE be funded at all in the future — if so for what?

Yes – a vibrant FE sector is vital to the future of the economy and individual life chances.  Liberal Democrats will protect the education budget in real terms – including schools, colleges and 16-19 education – as we have done for schools in this parliament.

Will colleges be appropriately funded to deliver English and maths?

We recognise the pressures colleges have experienced as government completed the difficult but necessary task of balancing the books.  That is why we want to protect the Department for Education’s 16-19 budget, to ensure colleges have the resources they need.

How do you envisage the provision for learners requiring “second chances “if students have not succeeded in the school system?

In a globalised world, where technology moves fast and industries can be transformed overnight, we also need to establish lifelong learning for all. No-one should expect to study just once in their adult life: we should be helping everyone to reach their full potential rather than writing people off.
Liberal Democrats will improve provision of independent careers information, including through job centres for people seeking new options later in life.  We will also introduce lifelong learning accounts to give people more control over their learning, and set up a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of re-skilling and lifelong learning.

Are you going to address tax avoidance?

Yes. In coalition we have fought to make the tax system fairer – cutting income tax for millions of people on low and middle incomes while clamping down on tax avoidance.  We have made huge progress, but there is still a minority of wealthy individuals and companies who actively seek to avoid paying their fair share. This cannot be right.  We will aim to raise an extra £6bn by 2017/18, by taking tough action against corporate tax evasion and abusive avoidance strategies.

What would you do to ensure that government funded training leads directly to a job outcome?

The most important thing to ensure is that there are jobs available.  Under a Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, this coalition has an excellent record on creating jobs in the private sector.  But we need to finish the job off of fixing the economy.  We will balance the books but in a way that is fair – without decimating public services.
However, we also recognise the importance of matching skill sets to job opportunities which is why we would develop National Colleges as national centres of expertise.  These colleges would identify a need for certain skill areas, such as renewable energy and then the college would deliver high level vocational skills to match businesses needs in that area.

What are you going to do to make sure schools are giving young people the information about apprenticeships?

Over 2m apprenticeships have been created since 2010, with 53 per cent of them going to women. But we wish to create more which is why we will improve provision of independent careers information, advice and guidance for all. Making sure young people are receiving all the information they need to make the right choice for them.

How are you going to address the relationship between university qualifications and vocational qualifications and make sure their contribution to the economy is equally recognised?

By increasing the quality, the number and the industries apprenticeships are available they will gradually gain parity with university qualifications.  Employers, government and schools need to work together to promote the opportunities apprenticeships offer.

What are you going to do to help support young people who have found themselves in difficult situations with the law or unemployment to turn their lives around and get into jobs?

We need to be investing in children when they are young rather than picking up the pieces when they are older.  We will protect the schools budget and drive up quality in the early years. Our pupil premium, taken from the front page of our last manifesto, has got £2.5bn into schools to support the children who need extra help.

How does Government plan to better help employers financially to achieve its plan to place all school leavers, without a job or college place, into an apprenticeship?

We will extend the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers for the remainder of the next Parliament.

What does the Government intend doing to help build better relations between schools and businesses, in order to prepare school leavers for the workplace?

It’s no secret that Liberal Democrats have clashed with Michael Gove on the provision of careers advice.  Put simply, children and young people won’t know what opportunities are out there if no one tells them.  Businesses have an important role to play – and need to be part of an ongoing dialogue with schools particularly on skills, work experience and careers advice. Our new careers body puts businesses in the lead – to make sure they are contributing to careers advice and making sure that advice properly reflects the world of work.

What will you do to break the current ‘top down’ nature of the skills funding system, to put more power in the hands of the customer (employers)?

We have sought to address this through apprenticeship funding which goes directly to the employer.

What will you do to overcome the inherent mismatch between young people’s career aspirations and the skills needs of industry?

It is essential that young people are given good, impartial advice so they are able to make informed decisions. A Liberal Democrat government will push to create more apprenticeships in more industries, such as the creative and digital industries, so that young people have a range of opportunities open to them.
We will also work to link skills and jobs together by making National Colleges centres for expertise. Where there is demand we will create colleges which focus on a particular industry, such as renewable energy, with the college delivering high level vocational skills for that sector.

What will you do to make apprenticeships and higher level apprenticeships the educational pathway of choice?

Over 2 m apprenticeships have been created since 2010, we of course want this number to continue to rise in the next parliament. Making young people aware of the opportunities which arise from doing apprenticeships involves giving them excellent independent career advice so they can make the right decision based on their skill set. 

Rather than put increasing pressure on colleges and independent providers to improve the English and mathematics skills of our young people, how are you going to address the poor teaching in schools that is the main reason for the problem?

We completely agree that the best way to improve education is to start early.  Education will continue to be the Liberal Democrats’ priority in the next parliament.  We will protect the education budget in real terms from early years to 19 and an aim to eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy by 2025.
We will invest in the early years, and allow early years staff to work towards Qualified Teacher Status.  We will maintain our Pupil Premium – which has been one of the coalition’s most important policies and came straight from the front page of the last Liberal Democrat manifesto. This gets extra money to the children who need the most help, ensuring teachers have the resources they need to support these children.
We want to see a new Royal College of Teaching to drive improvement and spread best practice on what works; will increase the number of teaching schools, and raise the bar on entry to the profession.  Finally, we will also guarantee that all teachers in state funded schools will hold Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) or be working towards it.

What are you going to do about ensuring independent careers advice?

We will improve provision of independent careers information, advice and guidance for all, including through job centres for people seeking new options later in life.  We want to see careers advice driven by local employers working closely with schools – and a focus on raising children’s aspirations through initiatives like Speakers for Schools.

To bring back respect for politicians should MPs not be allowed to have a ‘second job’ and should their salaries simply be linked to the cost of living index like so many others are?

We absolutely believe that our MP’s core focus is to represent the constituents they are elected to serve.  MP’s salaries are now considered by an independent body and MP’s rightly have no involvement in how their salary is set.

What effect has raising the school leaving age had on young people not in education, training or employment?

The education leaving age has now risen to 18, but the entitlement to support for school transport now ends at 16. Bursary payments are not always enough to cover rising bus fares.
Some young people are finding it expensive to access education, apprenticeships and employment, and for many parents the travel costs are a huge burden too.  We will introduce a new Young Person’s Discount Card, for all young people aged 16-21, giving an automatic 2/3rds discount on bus travel. This will assist all bus users by helping to maintain the viability of existing bus routes and making it easier to open new ones.
We will also enable government departments, local councils and private businesses to add discount offers to the Young Person’s Discount Card.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a politician?

The best thing about being in politics is seeing the policies and causes you champion become reality.  After years in opposition, long standing policies like the raising of the tax free allowance, the pupil premium, early years expansion, more apprenticeships, equal marriage, investment in mental health and shared parental leave have now happened – because Liberal Democrats are in government.
The worst thing is seeing the threat to liberal values from populist parties like UKIP, feeding on the economic difficulties of the last few years.  That is why it is so important that there is a strong, centrist Liberal Democrat voice in the next parliament.

How are you going to make sure that opportunities for adults to change or develop their careers don’t decline due to lack of funding?

We will introduce lifelong learning accounts to give learners more control over public   investment in their learning and establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of re-skilling and lifelong learning.

By how much would you cut the adult skills’ budget?

Liberal Democrats are clear that there should be a mixture of spending cuts and tax rises in order to balance the books.  We do not think it is right, as the Tories propose, to ask for no contribution from the super-rich and to continue cutting even once the books are balanced.  After 2018, we want to see spending on public services rise again.
We will cut less than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour – ensuring a fairer society and a stronger economy.

What measures will you introduce to improve basic skills in the working age population?

We will introduce lifelong learning accounts to give people more control over public   investment in their learning and establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of re-skilling and lifelong learning.