Devolve greater skills funding powers for Covid-19 recovery, government urged

The government has been urged to devolve more skills funding to mayoral combined authorities to allow them to develop “grassroot” recovery strategies from Covid-19.

A new report, Act Now, has today been published by education giant City & Guilds that warns a “top down” approach to recovery puts the UK economy “at risk” as much of the announced government skills support “is simply happening too late”.

Based on a series of roundtables with mayors and local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) that took place over the summer, the report suggests that increased skills devolution is the “only way to coherently address the differing priorities and challenges being faced” the country’s regions.

The Department for Education has so far devolved the adult education budget to eight regions in England since 2019, but the City & Guilds report urges ministers to go further.

“Government should devolve more skills funding to a regional level and give regions more autonomy to implement central skills policy in a way that works for them,” it says.

“For example the Kickstart scheme could be implemented by MCAs and LEPs to better meet immediate, local needs.”

The report also calls for a “more effective reallocation of government funding to ensure more adults have access to Adult Training Allowance Loans to meet employer and labour market demand”.

A series of other solutions have also been put forward by City & Guilds, including the creation of employment and training hubs in areas of high unemployment.

The hubs would act as a “one-stop skills and jobs matching service” for adults in employment who “might need to or want to upskill or retrain and those seeking employment”.

They would provide “careers advice and guidance, direct people straight into employment in other sectors where possible, direct people into college or university if needed but would also provide short, sharp training interventions to get people back into work”.

The report also urges government to take learning “to the people”. Adult training, for example, should be taken “out of the traditional college / university environment” to make it “more appealing” to older students.

City & Guilds proposes rejuvenating underutilised educational and council owned buildings as well as shop units left empty by the pandemic.

Former skills minister Anne Milton chaired the roundtables and in her foreword of the report she notes how the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast 3.4 million people out of work this year, an increase of 260 per cent on the start of the year.

“We need to act now to deliver the rapid interventions needed to bring the country back from recession and grow a workforce that is fit for the future with the skills needed to drive up levels of innovation and productivity,” she says.

Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive of City & Guilds Group, said: “We spent the summer talking to local governments and employers across the UK to understand what they need to help the unemployed back into work after the hammer blow of Covid-19. The message that came back loud and clear was we can’t apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach if we want to successfully support people back into jobs.

“The challenges and solutions were often different in each area and Mayoral teams felt that they were not always enabled to act quickly and effectively enough with local solutions.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are committed to open dialogue with MCAs, the Greater London Authority and other sector stakeholders on how best skills provision and reforms can be shaped to fit the needs of local areas.”