Autumn statement: silence on skills funding ‘criminal’

Jeremy Hunt announced billions for schools but no extra funding for further education or skills in his autumn statement today

Jeremy Hunt announced billions for schools but no extra funding for further education or skills in his autumn statement today

17 Nov 2022, 14:52

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Further education was offered no extra funding in today’s autumn statement despite pleas for more resources to relieve hikes in costs and staffing challenges.

It was better news for other parts of the education sector, however, as chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the schools budget will receive a £2.3 billion boost in 2023-24, and then again in 2024-25. The extra £4.6 billion will restore per pupil funding to 2010 levels in real terms, the government said.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said this announcement will mean that school funding is expected to exceed school costs.

But the only announcements for FE were a new government skills adviser, and an increase to the apprentice minimum wage.

Refusal to extend the schools funding boost to colleges triggered a scathing response from the chief executive of the Association of Colleges David Hughes.

He estimated that extending the funding increase awarded to schools to the college sector would cost “only” £240 million. It was “criminal to overlook colleges once again, deeply disappointing and wrong” and a “levelling up failure”, he tweeted.

Forecasts by the IFS had predicted that total spending on adult education was already set to be 25 per cent lower in 2024-25 that in 2010-11.

The institute also calculated that per-student funding in colleges was already 15 per cent lower in real terms in 2021-22 than in 2020-11. 

IFS director Paul Johnson said: “Despite making much of the education secretary’s background in vocational education, the chancellor has done nothing in this statement to reverse the long-standing squeeze on resources for further and adult education.” 

Extra funding awarded at the 2021 spending review has been protected in cash terms for the remaining two years of the spending review period. 

This included an increase to the national base rate for 16 to 17-year-olds, which kicked in this August. However, that was in return for delivering 40 additional teaching hours for students, and comes as inflation, energy and staffing costs take their toll on budgets. 

Jane Hickie, chief executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, described the chancellor’s speech as “little more than warm words” in the face of no extra cash.

“It’s positive to hear department spend will be honoured until 2024-25 – the situation could have been much worse,” she said.

“However, we cannot escape the fact that there has been systematic under-investment in the system for a number of years now.”

Hughes meanwhile has attacked the education secretary for her “hollow” words at this week’ AoC annual conference.

“The education secretary Gillian Keegan joined me on stage and assured college leaders that they are a priority for this government and that she understands skills,” he said.

“Those words will ring hollow today for college leaders trying to absorb soaring energy prices and wider inflationary pressures while also funding the cash to pay college staff what they need to live and what they deserve.”

The word “college” was not mentioned once in Hunt’s speech or the autumn statement documents.

Another adviser to advise on skills 

Sir Michael Barber

Public administration supremo Sir Michael Barber was announced as the latest wonk to advise the government on skills policy.

Barber, a former chief education adviser to awarding giant Pearson, has been appointed to advise Hunt and the education secretary Gillian Keegan on “maximising the impact” of the government’s flagship skills reforms.

He was the head of the first delivery unit at Number 10 Downing Street under Tony Blair, and is currently the chancellor of the University of Exeter. He’s written several books on policy implementation.

The chancellor told the House of Commons that “there are many important initiatives” in the skills space but “as chancellor I want to know the answer to one simple question: will every young person leave the education system with the skills they would get in Japan, Germany or Switzerland.”

Treasury documents provide little extra explanation on Barber’s role and remit, only that he will be asked to advise on “maximising the impact” of existing reforms, including the rollout of T Levels, expanding higher technical qualifications, growing skills bootcamps and the introduction of the lifelong loan entitlement. 

While it’s not clear how much, if any, of Barber’s work will be done in public, it will give ministers some flexibility to deflect or delay decisions on challenging or controversial issues. 

Professor Alison Wolf told FE Week she will retain her role as a Number 10 adviser on skills policy, a position she has held since February 2020. Barber’s role will be in addition to Wolf’s.

More skills powers for some mayors

Over half of England will soon be covered by a devolution deal, according to the chancellor today. 

A deal for a new elected mayor of Suffolk was announced and further deals for Cornwall, Norfolk and “an area in the north east” were re-confirmed. Those deals were supposed to be wrapped up this Autumn.

The chancellor also recommitted to the trailblazer devolution deals for the Greater Manchester and the West Midlands combined authorities. Those deals will be signed by early 2023 and promise even more devolved powers over skills, transport and housing. 

Earlier this year FE Week revealed that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority was seeking a co-commissioning role with DfE for 16 to 19 courses and the West Midlands wanted “greater influence” to join up local technical education, employment support and careers service. 

None of those details, nor any specific powers for the other county deals, were confirmed today. 

Adult education and apprenticeships

The only commitment around adult education was restating plans to introduce the lifelong loan entitlement from 2025 and there were no new measures reforms to the apprenticeship levy. This is despite a claim made in March, when then-chancellor Rishi Sunak, said the levy would be reviewed to check it is funding “the right kind of training.” The outcome was supposed to be announced this Autumn, according to Sunak’s spring statement.

The apprentice minimum wage will increase by 9.7 per cent to £5.28 an hour from April 2023. The national living wage will increase to £10.42 an hour at the same time.

We don’t know about energy support 

Colleges, training providers and other non-domestic energy users, including businesses, are currently able to receive help through the government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme.

The scheme reduces rates to £211 per megawatt hour for electricity and £75 for gas between 31 October this year and 31 March 2023. 

But the government is reviewing what support they can offer beyond this date, saying it is “not sustainable” to continue supporting large numbers of businesses.

Public sector organisations will “not be eligible for support through the review”, meaning it is currently unclear what support they will receive from April next year. 

Any extra support would most likely have been announced today, so this does look ominous. 

If there is no support forthcoming, then this would leave colleges and training providers facing a big hit in extra costs.

One college, South Essex, confirmed it would apply a four-day week across its campuses earlier this year.

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