Delay adult education budget devolution plans, government told



 

The government should delay the devolution of the adult education budge, because the Skills Funding Agency has still not decided how the system will work for providers that cross regional boundaries, the Association of Colleges has said.

Provider groups based in multiple regions have been lobbying the SFA for different treatment under the now-imminent devolution plans, FE Week understands.

An SFA spokesperson said the body would “consider how funding and commissioning arrangements will operate for colleges and other providers which deliver in multiple areas” in 2018/19, “as part of the programme of work being undertaken to support the devolution of the adult education budget”.

However, Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive at the Association of Colleges, admitted that he was still concerned that the problem remained unresolved, telling FE Week: “It would be better to delay the budget devolution rather than move ahead with half-completed plans.”

He said: “The chancellor of the exchequer has now agreed nine devolution deals that promise the local share of the adult education budget to new combined authorities in 2018.

“The National Audit Office recently described this as an experiment with the government drawing the map as it goes along. The nine deals all have six readiness conditions, which must be satisfied and important questions answered before devolution goes ahead.”

This comes after the SFA published geographic funding data for the first time, as reported in FE Week on April 13, in support of the devolution plans.

This was based on learners’ postcodes and related to non-apprenticeship adult skills budget (ASB) delivery in the 2014 to 2015 funding year — also setting out the proportion of provision each provider delivers within both their home local authority and region.

An SFA spokesperson said at the time that it was “publishing this data to support you [providers] in discussion with local government authorities in future adult education budget commissioning discussions”.

She added: “This will help establish a shared understanding of the current pattern of delivery.”

Julian-Gravatt
Julian-Gravatt

Concern has also been raised about how employers will operate if they run apprenticeships across several devolved countries within the UK.

A spokesperson for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said it wanted to see “greater clarity at the earliest opportunity” on the matter.

He said: “Firms of all sectors and sizes are still in the dark on some vital areas of the levy. We won’t find out until well after the elections how the system will work in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson said it was aware some employers had “cross-border operations and training activity” and it was working with the devolved administrations to “make this work for employers”.

“We are developing rules on which employees and training providers can use funds in their digital account or government support to pay for,” she added. “We will publish more details about these rules in June 2016.”

 



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2 Comments

  1. Mike Farmer

    The SFA geographic data spreadsheets referred to in this article, are bizarre. This is particuarly so for rural and semi-rural areas where the two-tier system of County Councils (which are the local education authority) and District Councils (which have limited powers and which do not include education). SFA (or BIS) has decided in its wisdom that ‘local authority’ for providers in these two-tier council areas is the District Council not the County Council. I fail to understand the rationale, and I have emailed SFA to ask them to explain. No response yet!

  2. There are two issues here, which overlap.

    One is devolution within England, and the reality that some specialist provision is offered in only a very few places – courses for seafarers are a good example. I see nothing in the devolution guidance which protects such specialist provision from local decision-makers who decide it’s not important enough to get priority in their area.

    The other is the near silence about how the Apprenticeship Levy will work outside England. Of course the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are annoyed that Whitehall is trampling on their turf, but employers need hard information so they can make their plans. What will the rules be outside England for how employers can spend their Levy pot? And when will they know? BIS’s timetable simply says airily that this is a matter for the devolved administrations – and that’s not good enough.

    On all sides we hear the new mantra about the value of “local” provision, the importance of what “local” employers say, and so on. That’s certainly better than everything being managed nationally, but we should no more have this as an either / or choice than we should about academic – v – vocational. We need an intelligent mix of both.