The task of the first official inquiry of the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee is to look at the government’s Productivity Plan.
Committee chair Iain Wright (pictured above), announcing the inquiry in July, said he wanted to explore whether the plan addressed the main causes of low productivity in the UK and whether it was likely to achieve its desired results.
The Productivity Plan itself had been launched earlier that month and it outlines, among other things, how the government intends to reform FE to boost productivity in the UK with proposals for an apprenticeship levy, per-learner funding for adult learning, and new institutes of technology to replace some FE colleges, and further devolution.
And while a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills consultation on the proposed large employers’ apprenticeship levy closed on October 2, the window for submissions on the committee’s productivity plan inquiry closed on September 10.
FE Week has pulled together a selection of these inquiry responses from the FE and skills world on some of the key issues in the plans that affect the sector.
Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP)
On the apprenticeship levy: “There are dangers that in the long term it will create a focus on the financial aspects of the programme and it will not be possible to control the quality of a programme where many employers would not have chosen to be involved. This is a cultural shift and we should not rush the introduction of the programme. AELP has recommended that the apprenticeship programme is built over the next three or four years while we carefully introduce a levy-based system.
“As the levy is only paid by large employers, there is a risk that only they will determine how the money is spent. The drive for productivity means that we have to engage small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who will deliver much of the growth in the programme.”
Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
On specialist and technical colleges: “The specialist colleges and higher level technical colleges which will emerge from the area-based reviews are huge investments and are very much leaps of faith in sectors which are deemed to be the future growth industries. While one must applaud leaps of faith and vision these should be provided as additional facilities — not institutions that will replace existing provision. If they fail there is no safety-net provision as they will have merged or closed.”
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)
On the apprenticeship levy: “The new employer-led apprenticeship system has the potential to address the skills gap in the UK, creating a system that is responsive to the skills and training needs of businesses. However, small businesses who are integral to achieving this ambitious target must not be priced out of taking on apprenticeships. The current uncertainty around how the funding model will apply to SMEs, what level of contribution these firms will be required to provide for training and the impact of the levy on small firms must be resolved as soon as possible.”
National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace)
On localisation: “Government should involve local areas in the commissioning of provision either through co-commissioning or by fully devolving, so that local provision can be integrated and deliver more sustainable job outcomes. Local enterprise partnerships should take on an oversight role to ensure that local skills providers prioritise long-term unemployed adults such that adequate volumes of skills provision are made available to them.”
National Consortium of Colleges and Providers
On localisation: “The major downside to devolving decisions on basic skills funding to local regions would be the ‘postcode lottery’ that would result from the inconsistent approaches taken by different local authorities.
On per-learner funding: “A per learner system will likely put off employers from helping their staff improve their basic skills. With a potential consequence of this proposal being less training taking place on site, employers will be reluctant to disrupt their business for employees to attend training sessions.”
Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
On the apprenticeship levy: “We are clear that a statutory levy is not the route we would have followed. This is because levies typically distort skills systems by incentivising quantity over quality and by encouraging employers to invest solely in levy funded programmes at the expense of other — often more appropriate — forms of ‘in house’ training.
“Government must give employers real control over standards, so that only business-relevant training is funded. It must also ensure that levy funds are only accessible by levy payers and that employers are consulted on the rate and reach of the levy — not simply on its implementation.”
On institutes of technology: “The government has proposed creating two new categories of FE college — National Colleges and Institutes of Technology. We understand the rationale, but believe both could be combined under the single name of ‘Polytechnic Colleges’, with a mission to provide clear lines of sight to professional and technical qualifications at levels four-seven, including higher and degree apprenticeships.”