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 second of three articles, Shadow Skills Minister Liam Byrne (pictured) takes the stand for Labour.

Business, Enterprise and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock answered yesterday, while a Lib Dem spokesperson fields questions later today on


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

Absolutely, and what Labour’s said is we’ll protect the 16 to 19 FE budget in real terms — now that’s worth a lot of money to FE because about £8bn is spent on 16 to 19 FE today. Protecting it in real terms up until 2018 or 19 will lift that budget by £400m so that will be a big boost. In addition to that, I want to see FE take on a big role in welfare to work provision and of course a bigger role in higher education provision too. At the moment FE is being hammered and the swiftness and the deepness of the cuts is jeopardising FE all over the country and actually we need to create in FE Institutes of Technical Excellence that really help us open new possibilities for learners, but crucially close Britain’s yawning productivity gap with our key competitors. FE is at the forefront of tackling the skills gaps that we’ve got in Britain so it’s ludicrous that FE is being cut back so far. We need stronger FE not weaker FE in years to come.

Will colleges be appropriately funded to deliver English and maths?


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

That’s a level of detail we’ll set out post-election.

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

The most important thing that we have to do is transform FE role in the apprenticeship delivery system in Britain, so we see FE as a much bigger part of that.  Also, if you look at our plans to introduce the future jobs fund, they would entail FE taking on a much bigger role in training provision for young people who are struggling to get into work — so in a lot of different ways we want to strengthen FE’s relationship with employers.

But then of course on top of that we’ve got to transform careers services, so reintroducing genuinely independent face-to-face careers counselling is one of the most important things that we can do to help to ensure learners are also much better informed about the relationship between training and work.

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?

We ‘ve said that we want to bring FE and higher education closer together so we’ve said that our priority for expanding the higher education system will be technical degrees, in effect, earn while you learn degree programmes. And I envisage FE being a place that takes on a big part of the delivery of those technical degrees. The system reform we’d like to see is the creation of college partnerships with FE and higher education working much more closely together in a way that’s quite similar to the American community college partnership model.

What are you going to do to support skills competitions and help continue the great work they do for young people who are involved with them?

WorldSkills is just extraordinary. It’s been just a huge privilege to watch it grow over the last few years. We think that the future model of careers services needs include a big element of inspiration, so that the work that the Skills Show and WorldSkills do is developed and supported and I hope in a way that is much stronger regionally than nationally.

How will you support the FE Sector to generate more income to replace the 24 per cent reduction in adult skills budgets?

We think that skills budgets should be determined much more locally, so the local city regions and combined local authorities have got a much bigger role in shaping the way that skills provision is shaped and the way the skills budget is spent. That would allow you to tailor budgets much more closely to regional needs but in addition if we expand the role of FE in higher education you’ve actually got quite an ambitious growth plan for FE underpinned by real-terms protection.

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

We need to start much earlier — the reintroduction of face-to-face careers advice will be one of the big changes that we want to make. You’ve got to get businesses much more involved in ITPs and I want to JCPs do their part too because ultimately JCPs are sitting on top of lots of Labour market information that’s not currently shared with the country or young people.

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

I’m afraid the adult education budget has been left in such a mess by this government we’re going to need a pretty wide-ranging review of the way that we reboot adult skills provision in Britain and that is something that we’re only going to be able to do in office.

*A number of questions were not posed due to timing constraints