DfE announces first regional ‘skills deal’

The West Midlands has become the first combined authority to strike a “skills deal” with the Department for Education, with £69 million available to be unlocked for training.

Up to £49 million will come via government investment, while the extra £20 million is being pumped into the region by the authority itself.

The funding, to be spent on increasing apprenticeships and revamping colleges, is separate from the £100 million that the West Midlands expects to receive annually from the adult education budget when devolution kicks in from next year.

It is said to be the first skills deal of its kind, and the door is open for other combined authorities in the country to enter negotiations with the DfE to strike similar arrangements.

However, the DfE admitted that not all of the government funding is new, nor could it say how the £49 million figure was arrived at.

The West Midlands was chosen as the first combined authority for the skills deal because it is the region with the most acute skills challenge, the DfE said.

It has the largest proportion of the working-age population without qualifications (16 per cent) in England.

The £69 million will be used to create “hundreds of new apprenticeships at small and medium sized businesses in priority areas, including in construction, automotive and digital sectors”, according to the DfE.

It will also fund a “multi-million investment in local colleges – ensuring they have access to the latest equipment and facilities to teach the skills the region and the country need”.

Up to £5 million of the funding will be used to work with employers to develop a National Retraining Scheme pilot, while £1 million is intended to “boost Edtech”, and another £1 million will “improve careers advice for young people, including a new careers hub”.

The funding will also be used to pilot an online portal for businesses to share work experience opportunities with schools in the region.

“The West Midlands is the engine of our thriving economy, but we want to make sure even more local people have the skills they need to get on in life, while also boosting the region’s productivity and technical expertise,” said education secretary Damian Hinds.

“This new skills deal will provide the right investment so that both young people and adults have the chance to learn, upskill, retrain and take advantage of the range of exciting jobs in areas such as construction, cyber security and digital technology.”

Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, said: “This deal means more apprenticeships and more money for adult education, career advice and technical education, which is brilliant news for both businesses and young people.

“But perhaps more importantly, this new way of working with government means we have new powers and resource to help deliver the right outcomes for the West Midlands and for government.”

There are seven combined authorities in England with elected mayors: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, Tees Valley, West Midlands, and the West of England.

Two other combined authories, the North East and West Yorkshire, do not have mayors.