I’m beginning to think Labour has got it at last – well almost! 

4 Oct 2022, 6:00

The Labour leader’s close alignment with his chancellor Rachel Reeves is also good news for FE providers if he comes to power, writes Ann Limb

So Labour has promised to reform the apprenticeship levy into a “growth and skills levy”. It would be hard not to welcome a move which means money raised can be used to fund other types of craft, technician, and vocational training.

“If you don’t train, you shouldn’t trade” is how one employer, also a college governor, once expressed it to me in my college principal days.  

The principle of employers helping meet the cost of updating and upskilling their employees makes good business sense.

It provides a vehicle for businesses to engage in constructive dialogue with professional FE colleagues. This can help ensure alignment particularly at a local and regional level between skills gaps, labour market needs and effective supply side solutions.

Linking local skills improvement plans to FE provider accountability is how the Tories are making real their “employers-first” mantra.

Labour’s plan will evolve what the current government has put in place. It is an excellent move, especially if it means that businesses will be able to use up to half of their contributions to fund non-apprenticeship training.

Small and medium-sized employers would continue to access apprenticeships under the proposed new system and non-levy payers will not see a reduction in the amount of funding available to them.

I spoke to Keir Starmer and his senior staff after his conference speech on Tuesday. I applauded him for recognising that employers need greater “flexibility to invest in the world-class training they need”  – especially for the clean energy and green jobs creation schemes about which he spoke so convincingly.

I asked Keir if he wanted any feedback and he said ‘yes’

I then asked if he’d welcome any feedback and he said yes.

“If only you had tacked on to the end of that sentence in your speech the phrase ‘working in partnership with your local college and training providers’, you would, in a nanosecond, have ignited a plethora of plaudits in Twittersphere by all those working in post 16 skills sector.”

Reassuringly he said, “I’ll try and remember” and later his speech writer confirmed the point was taken.

I also spoke to some of the key FE leaders at conference prior to Keir’s speech and hinted that he might reference skills.

But what a lost opportunity it was for the leader of the opposition not to have given a quiet heads up to any of the sector’s leaders to make sure that much-needed detail could be ironed out.

They could have all prepared their social media accounts with positive reactions, proving that Labour is getting FE at last.

The Labour Party press office also announced several other skills “reforms” including the establishment of a new body called Skills England.

I’m not at all against raising the profile of skills. City and Guilds has argued for an independent commissioner for skills & productivity to whom all skills reforms should be accountable.

But do we really need another “new” bureaucratic structure when the Unit for Future Skills within DfE has barely got its taxonomies out of the digital filing cabinet?

Even greater (full?) devolution of funding – not just of adult funding streams – will surely follow. It would be a bold and timely move.

It must be linked to Labour’s policies on local government reform. Conference decisions on proportional representation (once a Labour government is in power) surely heralds a new era of localism.

Quite sensibly, Labour’s post-16 policy includes merging the various adult education skills funding streams such as the Shared Prosperity Fund and Multiply, with the existing adult education budget and then devolving it. 

Keir’s close alignment with his shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves is also critical here for post-16 skills funding.

Treasury has often been the barrier to accepting the massive role colleges and training providers play in economic growth and prosperity. I predict that with Rachel Reeves as Britain’s first woman chancellor things will change.

Keir and Rachel – our hope is turning into belief.

Belief that a Labour government will finally bring post-16 skills into the limelight the country needs. 

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