Chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivered his spring budget today and confirmed the government’s intention to introduce a shorter “kind of” apprenticeship for the over-50s called “returnerships”.
There were little other major announcements for the FE and skills sector, but some important policy areas, including a universal credit training flexibility, have been extended.
Here’s what the budget announced for further education:
‘Returnerships’ for over-50s – but when and how?
Over the weekend, Hunt trailed the idea of a new training programme for out-of-work older people. Today during his speech at the dispatch box, he confirmed the education secretary Gillian Keegan “will introduce a new kind of apprenticeship targeted at the over 50s who want to return to work.
“They will be called returnerships, an offering alongside skills boot camps and sector-based work academies.”
Hunt said returnerships will “bring together our existing skills programmes to make them more appealing for older workers focusing on flexibility and previous experience to reduce training length”.
This programme of work will be backed with £63 million of additional funding.
But there is no timeline for when returnerships are expected to roll out.
Apprenticeships also have a legal 12-month minimum duration requirement. It is unclear whether new legislation will be required for returnerships.
While Hunt suggested in his speech that returnerships will be a new course, the Treasury’s budget documents cast doubt over this.
The documents state: “Returnerships are a new offer targeted at the over 50s, which bring together the government’s existing skills programmes, focusing on flexibility and previous experience to reduce training length. Returnerships will promote accelerated apprenticeships, sector-based work academy programme placements and skills bootcamps to the over 50s.”
The documents add that this will be “supported by £63 million for an additional 8,000 skills bootcamps places in 2024-25 in England, and 40,000 new sector-based work academy programme placements across 2023-24 and 2024-25 in England and Scotland”.
FE Week is seeking further information from the government.
Universal credit training flexibility extended again
The government’s “train and progress” policy, originally announced as a six-month pilot in March 2021, increases the amount of time universal credit claimants can study full-time, work-focused courses while still receiving benefits from eight weeks to 12 weeks.
This is extended to 16 weeks in certain subject areas which have skills bootcamps.
This flexibility has been extended again to April 2025.
Additional £3m for supported internships
Supported internships, introduced a decade ago, are structured programmes for SEND students aged 16 to 24 who have an education health and care plan (EHCP) to get into sustained employment, with placements lasting for six months to a year.
Hunt announced today that the Department for Education will now invest an additional £3 million over the next two years to pilot an expansion of the supported internships programme to young people entitled to SEND support who do not have an EHCP.
Intensive English language courses for Ukrainians
In an extension of the support for Ukrainians fleeing the war who have arrived in the UK under the Ukraine visa schemes, the government is providing £11.5 million to offer “intensive English language courses and employment support” to up to 10,000 individuals.
This new funding is expected to “boost the number of Ukrainians entering the labour market for the first time, as well as helping those already employed into higher-skilled roles”.
Further details, including additional groups who may be eligible for this support, will be published “in due course”.
Investment zones cash can be spent on skills
Hunt announced the launch of 12 new “investment zones” in England, dubbed “potential Canary Wharf’s”, which will have access to interventions worth £80 million over five years.
The zones will have access to “flexible grant funding” to “support skills and incentivise apprenticeships, provide specialist business support and improve local infrastructure, dependent on local requirements”.
The 12 zones are: the proposed East Midlands Mayoral Combined County Authority; Greater Manchester Mayoral Combined Authority; Liverpool City Region Mayoral Combined Authority; the proposed North East Mayoral Combined Authority; South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority; Tees Valley Mayoral Combined Authority; West Midlands Mayoral Combined Authority; West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority.
Deeper devolution deals signed
In the levelling up white paper, the government committed to negotiate trailblazer deeper devolution deals with the Greater Manchester and West Midlands Combined Authorities to “set the blueprint for deeper devolution across the rest of England”.
Those deals have been signed today and include “a greater role in simplifying and integrating ticketing in local transport systems; devolution of the majority of 19+ adult skills funding to mayors; a long-term commitment to local authorities retaining 100 per cent of their business rates; and, for the first time outside of London, local leaders will now be able to set the strategic direction over the Affordable Housing Programme in their areas,” according to Treasury documents.
The new deals also pave the way for multi-year funding settlements for Greater Manchester and the West Midlands from the next spending review. The chancellor said he hopes to roll this out to other areas in the future, though didn’t specify a timescale.
The documents for the deals themselves show no major change for skills funding in those areas, which already control the adult education budget. But there is more flexibility on how they can use free courses for jobs funding, skills bootcamps and introduces a “central convenor of careers provision in the city region”.