Government hands 36 Skills Advisory Panels another £2.7m

Skills advisory panels have been handed another £2.7 million to identify local skills gaps and tackle them, education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced.

The 36 panels (SAPs) will receive £75,000 each and use the money to produce action plans and reports, highlighting how they have supported local providers and employers to address local skills priorities.

They will also provide evidence to support Williamson’s Skills and Productivity Board, an expert panel led by an industry leader which is set to be established later this year.

The new cash comes after FE Week reported in January the Department for Education was working on secondary legislation, an FE Bill, which could include a bigger role for SAPs in influencing which courses will be prioritised and funded in their area.

It could mean colleges and providers lose their deciding power over which courses are run, with SAPs providing advising national and local government on the sectors to prioritise in their region.

Announcing the funding today, Williamson said: “SAPs will play a key role in our drive to make sure every community can access the skills they need.

“That’s why we are providing an additional £75,000 so each SAP can go further in identifying local skills gaps, take action to address them as well as providing evidence to support the Skills and Productivity Board when it is established later this year.”

SAPs – groups of 15 to 20 made up of employers, providers and local authorities based in each mayoral authority and local enterprise partnership – were initially handed £75,000 each last year to undertake labour market analysis.

The money, £2.7 million in total, had to be spent by next month on hiring additional analysts, training existing ones and undertaking more analysis to establish employers’ needs – most mayoral combined authorities FE Week spoke to in January had done this.

The Department for Education told FE Week the new grants would be funded from the Skills Advisory Panels Programme budget, and would be for the April 2020 to March 2021 financial year.

The prospect of an enhanced role for SAPs was welcomed by the LEP Network last month, with a spokesperson saying connecting them to apprenticeships is “smart thinking and a natural development of exploiting labour market insight to help focus on areas of employer need – and that can only be a benefit to local communities”.

The news of this latest funding boost marks an upturn in SAPs fortunes, which were heralded in the Conservative Party’s 2017 manifesto and featured in the government’s ensuing Industrial Strategy, but absent from the party’s manifesto for last year’s election.