An interview with Matthew Hancock, the new Minister for Skills

The new Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Skills (left) came in for his first sector grilling today when FE Week was invited to his office at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Among the issues raised in a tough Q&A session were the FE minister’s change in job title from Minister of State to Parliamentary Under Secretary, and the division of his post between BIS and the Department for Education (DfE).

Here’s a taster of what readers can expect from the Matthew Hancock interview in the next edition of FE Week.

Every minister has a different approach to their job. What are the key differences or similarities in your approach and that of your predecessor, John Hayes?

John Hayes and I are good friends and we go back a long way.

I hope to learn a lot from the way he did the job. But there are quite a lot of similarities.

He and I are both passionate about FE and apprenticeships and I want to move in the broad direction that he set out.

Is it significant that FE is now represented by a Parliamentary Under Secretary rather than the more Minister of State post? And will you be able to pack as much punch as John Hayes?

That’s my plan. But John has big shoes to fill.

But no, the new job title is not significant.

The job was expanded to include responsibility for all post-16 funding outside of universities.

So it includes sixth forms and sixth form colleges to make sure that in the 16-19 funding area we look across the whole piece and don’t treat FE as separate to schools.

The responsibilities are wider and it’s my first ministerial post so it would be extremely unusual for that to be a Minister of State post.

What proportion of your time will be taken up with DFE-related issues and can you be an effective minister in the dual role?

Yes — and it’s vital to make that work.

FE is funded both from DfE and BIS so for the last few years there’s been a twin responsibility for the person sitting in my seat and I’m working very hard to make sure my role works.

I don’t see my time as split between the two departments — I see all of my time as spent on issues that cover both departments.

For instance, the apprenticeship unit is shared between the two departments and my private office is one team that moves between the departments, talking to both.

I’m very clear that I have one job that happens to have funding from two departments.

How familiar have you become in the short space of time you’ve been in the post with FE and the role it plays?

I’ve been listening and learning and getting out to colleges.

I’ve been meeting people from across the sector and also meeting businesses — people who are taking on apprentices and people who have training needs.

As well as being an economist, I come from a small business background. My family’s business invented an online post code finder and they still run that business today.

I grew up in that environment and seeing how, especially in IT, classic academic subjects don’t teach you what you need to be an IT professional.

What would you say to criticism that one A Level at an FE college doesn’t give you enough of an insight into the sector to be running it?

It gives me more of an insight than having no A Levels.

That’s why I’m spending time visiting colleges and other providers, talking to stakeholders.

I’m in listening and learning mode and I’m all ears to advice from all quarters to make sure I get the full picture.

The other thing is the fact I went to an FE college does give me a feel for the sector, but of course that was a long time ago and I need a feel for what’s happening on the ground now in order to be able to make decisions in the months and years ahead.

Picture: Matthew Hancock MP (left) in his office, reading the lastest edition of FE Week with the editor Nick Linford

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