Autumn statement: Government to devolve adult education budget to London

Autumn statement: Government to devolve adult education budget to London

The government has announced that it is devolving the adult education budget to London, through today’s autumn statement.

Details emerged in the online document published on gov.uk following the end of chancellor Philip Hammond’s speech in the House of Commons this afternoon.

It said: “The government remains committed to devolving powers to support local areas to address productivity barriers.

“We will devolve the AEB to London from 2019-20 (subject to readiness conditions).

It added: “The government will continue to work with London to explore further devolution of powers over the coming months.”

The Association of Colleges called in May for wider devolution of the AEB to be delayed, because the Skills Funding Agency had still not decided how the system will work for providers that cross regional boundaries.

Provider groups based in multiple regions have been lobbying the SFA for different treatment under the now-imminent devolution plans.

When asked about this, an SFA spokesperson said the body would “consider how funding and commissioning arrangements will operate for colleges and other providers which deliver in multiple areas” in 2018/19, “as part of the programme of work being undertaken to support the devolution of the adult education budget”.

However, Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive at the Association of Colleges, admitted that he was still concerned that the problem remained unresolved, telling FE Week: “It would be better to delay the budget devolution rather than move ahead with half-completed plans.”

When asked for AoC’s views following today’s announcement, chief executive David Hughes said: “The chancellor today confirmed that the Adult Education Budget will be devolved to Greater London in 2019-20. There are clear potential benefits if this leads to greater flexibility for colleges to meet local employer, community and student needs, but there is a lack of detail currently about how it will work in practice. 

“We will continue to recommend that the Department for Education and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) publish a Skills Devolution Green Paper to help clarify responsibilities and priorities and encourage debate about the potential benefits and risks.

“It is important for colleges to be given the flexibilities to deliver the learning that London and Londoners want and need but there are too many unknowns about how this will work for us to be confident of that outcome. ”

Control of responsibility had already been passed to the Greater London Authority LEP, FE Week reported in May 2015, for European Social Fund cash – although that will now change due to Brexit.

The government had previously planned to give Leps a “direct role” in decision-making over ESF spending for skills training schemes up to 2020.

But it wrote to LEPs telling them that only the London Enterprise Panel would now be allowed to “manage and take decisions” over ESF and other European Union structural and investment funds.

His letter said the commission had “advised that this approach is non-compliant” with European Structural and Investment Fund Regulations, which state that only the managing authority — central government in England’s case — could decide where the money goes.