Dr Sue Pember hails Sadiq Khan’s bold and far-reaching new skills and adult education plan for the capital

The launch of the mayor’s ‘Skills for Londoners’ strategy is an exciting new development. It is a momentous opportunity for the capital, and it will better meet the needs of Londoners and its economy.

Last week the mayor Sadiq Khan set out his vision and priorities to achieve a “city for all Londoners, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to succeed in a fair, inclusive society and thriving economy”. This is a game-changer: unlike previous strategies it successfully brings together the needs of Londoners and of business.

The strategy is not only an exemplar for the other mayoral combined authorities but also for the government. It fills the void created by the government, which has a piecemeal approach to skills and adult education policy. This document seeks to create a more strategic, city-wide approach, working collaboratively with learners, individuals, employers, providers, boroughs and many other stakeholders.

The present national skills landscape is complex and there are competing priorities and new, disjointed initiatives. The strategy makes sense of this for London, sets the landscape for devolution of funding and explains how Mr Khan will prioritise the £311 million of devolved funding which will be invested annually in the capital’s learners.

The inclusive, constructive processes the mayor used to create this strategy also set it apart and should be a yardstick for progressive policymaking. The GLA asked, listened and acted. The strategy was enhanced by the consultation process and, although at times frustrating, the final policy has been constructed around learners’ needs.

Devolution will put the mayor firmly in the driving seat in terms of supporting adults aged 19 and more to access the skills they need to thrive. This will ensure investment is better directed, and the commitment to the skills Londoners need the most, including literacy, numeracy, digital and ESOL, is commendable. London has a highly qualified workforce but at the same time it has vast numbers with poor basic skills who need support.

The strategy recognises the important role of community learning in education and wider support, particularly for hard-to-reach and disadvantaged groups.

Devolution will enable City Hall to deliver social as well as economic impact, and it will enable the mayor to support his aspiration for greater social mobility, which – along with inclusion and diversity – is at the heart of this strategy.

There are many practical and implementation decisions to be made. For example who pays for the students who want leave the area? The GLA, like all the other MCAs, is developing an underpinning framework. Such frameworks will describe how MCAs will work with their providers.

I hope they choose a trusted-provider model in which learners’ requirements are agreed jointly, and solutions and programmes are developed together. I believe these decisions will be made with the same diligence used in writing the strategy.

However, I urge these new administrators of public funds to look at the best and worst of past systems. We must not succumb to the notion that commissioning by tendering works. Recent events have demonstrated that fixating on process rather than on partnership does not create community-led solutions. Using the language and methods of 1980s-style privatisation and outsourcing will not work in the post-Brexit world.

The mayor has already announced that it will be the living wage rather than the minimum wage will determine who gets free courses in London. This is fantastic but comes at a cost, and the budget is limited. If the mayor wants to keep participation at current levels, there needs to be more funding.

The big challenge for MCAs is the next spending review and their collective ability to persuade the Treasury to restore the 40 per cent of funding lost through successive austerity measures.
This is a new world and I am greatly looking forward to it, but need to be brave and patient to bring it to fruition.

Dr Sue Pember, Managing director, Holex