8 things we learned from skills minister's select committee grilling

A feisty commons education select committee meeting, held this morning, saw Anne Milton quizzed on a number of pressing FE topics.

The skills minister offered a few outlandish opinions while updating MPs on her progress in areas such as funding and subcontracting.

FE Week has the main findings:

 

1. Milton may ask colleges to justify discrepancies in leader and staff pay

 

The University and College Union is currently battling with the Association of Colleges to increase staff pay – but is coming up against roadblocks.

Ms Milton said this row was not for her to “personally decide” but she admitted the “discrepancy” between staff and leaders’ pay is “quite uncomfortable”.

She would “look to do a similar thing” in colleges as was done at schools, where the government is asking academy trust chief executives to justify excessive pay.

“One wants to give people rewards for a complex job but it needs to be proportionate when money is tight,” she said.

“If your salary is way in excess of the workforce, who haven’t had a pay rise in quite some time, you need to ask yourself as a principal what that says about how you value your workforce.”

 

2. She is “constantly” fighting Treasury for more funding – but she’s unsure how much to ask for

 

The skills minister admitted that FE funding has “fallen against other sectors”, and that is why her department is reviewing its “sustainability” – the outcome of which will inform the amount requested from the Exchequer.

“It is incumbent of the minister in this role, and I take it very seriously on all occasions, to point out that if we want a workforce with the skills we need then we need to give it the attention it needs,” she said.

“Those discussions [for more funding] are ongoing with the Treasury at the moment about how much we need. Our sustainability programme on FE is going to inform the figures that we put to Treasury.”

The outcome date for the sustainability review is not yet known.

 

3. The minister is hesitant to introduce a cap on management fees

 

Ms Milton admitted subcontracting is in her list of “top six issues” that she is dealing with after being read out the FE Week analysis that showed that last year more than 10 providers charged average management fees of more than 30 per cent.

Asked if she would introduce a management fee cap, she said, “I hesitate, because how would you assess what that limit should be and for what?”.

“You would have to categorise all of the different levels of work the prime contractor did and put a price on that. That would not be that easy because the sector is so variable.

“I don’t know whether there should be a limit or that all subcontracted contracts should be looked at, where there will be a level above which you might investigate further.”

 

4. Still no movement on subsidised apprentice travel

 

In their 2017 party manifesto, the Conservatives committed to cutting travel costs for apprentices.

Ms Milton had previously told the committee she expected to come back with “good news” on this issue.

Her expectation did not become reality.

“I wish I had good news,” she said. “This is in the hands of the Department for Transport. I have met the minister responsible and they have done their first stage of work and are now doing their second stage and will report later this year.

“I don’t know when the government will make an announcement on it.”

Ian Mearns, the MP for Gateshead, was “really disappointed in this answer”.

“Unless there is intervention from the DfE to make sure students can get to their work placements or colleges, those students will not be able to access the tuition they so desperately need,” he said.

 

5. Milton STILL hasn’t met with the IfA’s apprentice panel

 

In May, Ms Milton admitted she had not met with the Institute for Apprenticeships’ panel of apprentices more than 12 months after it was established.

Asked if she has finally met them, the minister said: “No, but I think I have a date in my diary.”

She added that she meets “hundreds” of other apprentices and there is “nothing quite as powerful as the experience of someone who has done it”.

 

6. She’s open to introducing more “flexibilities” in the levy

 

The minister said she is currently going through the apprenticeship levy “sector by sector to see what changes would make it more usable for employers”.

She said her department has introduced “some flexibilities” – such as allowing employers to transfer 10 per cent of their levy funds to multiple businesses – and she will “continue to introduce some [flexibilities] if they help ensure that the levy is spent on the purpose for which it was intended”.

 

7. 147 former Carillion apprentices are expected to be “lost” from the skills system

 

A total of 1,148 apprentice bricklayers, carpenters and builders suddenly found themselves out of work when the outsourcing giant Carillion went into liquidation in January.

Ms Milton told the committee that 147 of those trainees are currently “disengaged” with finding new work or training “despite numerous target attempts”.

“There will have to be a point where we no longer target them because you can’t go on,” she said.

“I don’t think we’ve met that point yet but we will have to. It is very disappointing and demonstrates the tragedy for learners when a company like Carillion goes under, because we have lost some young people and we can’t afford to lose anybody.”

 

8. “Leave it a year” before starting T-levels

 

In probably her most shocking statement, Ms Milton said she wouldn’t encourage her children to study the new T-level qualifications in their first year.

“I’m a parent of four children. If somebody said to me your children can do this new qualification, I would say ‘leave it a year’,” she said.

You can read the full article here.