The mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority explains why they have been quick to act on cabinet office supplier support guidance for adult education budget funded training providers.

When the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) took over the £126m adult education budget (AEB) for the West Midlands last autumn, we knew we had a great opportunity to help equip local people with the skills they need to gain new or better employment.

Nobody could have predicted that just six months later, all our training providers would have closed their doors because of the Covid-19 shutdown.

We are now all living and working in a very different way, and the WMCA is working with partners in public health, local and central government, charities and businesses to maintain essential services and to keep our residents safe. It is a huge collaborative effort, and I am confident the West Midlands is well placed to get through this.

We expect that the organisations continue to support local people wherever possible

But we need to look to the longer term, specifically how we support the continued economic revival of the West Midlands.

When we emerge from lockdown, we expect to have recruitment and skills shortages in key sectors, including construction, digital, advanced manufacturing and engineering, and business and professional services.

Further education colleges, local authorities, and private training providers will be key to addressing this, aiding the recovery of our regional economy from the effects of Covid-19. This is why it is essential that we develop long-term, strategic relationships with all of the colleges and training providers operating across the West Midlands.

We know providers are doing everything they can to support residents and businesses at this difficult time by moving learning online, or over the telephone and by post for those people who don’t have internet access.

And so to support providers as they support their learners, we will continue to make scheduled AEB payments to all colleges and local authorities funded under a grant agreement.

Equally, we understand this is a particularly challenging time for private providers. When we first commissioned private organisations to carry out work through the AEB, we said we wanted to develop long-term relationships that would enable us to provide a high-quality offer for adults across the region. 

In recognition of this commitment, we will be making profiled payments to all private providers for at least the next three months. This is in accordance with the Cabinet Office Guidance Procurement Policy Note (PPN) – Supplier relief due to Covid-19, and shows the importance for us of maintaining a strong and responsive provider base.

These payments will be made irrespective of service delivery levels, but we expect that the organisations continue to support local people wherever possible, and do not profit on levels of performance below the payment amount.  We also expect that private providers and any sub-contractors won’t furlough employees involved in the delivery of AEB-funded learning and will continue to pay them at their current rate.

By supporting our providers in this way, I am confident that we are doing what is best to help our region’s economy recover from the effects of Covid-19 as quickly as possible.

And then of course there are urgent needs for new jobs to be filled now, which are likely to increase over the coming months.

So we are asking our providers to support our rapid recruitment service – sourcing candidates for industries which have critical needs now, such as supermarkets, care homes, hospital and other essential services – and we are pleased at how quickly and positively they have responded to this.

We know local people may need to upskill to find new jobs following redundancy caused by the Covid-19 shutdown, or to work differently at home.

In addition, we want to support those who are in work, who may have more time for training, to take advantage of our free online courses to help them improve their skills in areas including coding, team leading, and counselling and, potentially, to consider developing their skills to progress their careers further. 

We are publicising these courses through our Covid-19 support site, where residents can also access training on topics ranging from online and mobile banking for individuals, to digital marketing for businesses.

While I know these are difficult times for everyone, staying at home does offer opportunities to learn new skills online, and I hope as many people as possible will take advantage of this training that our colleges and providers are playing a crucial role in delivering.