It’s time for the devolved authorities to lead on skills

Central government agencies have failed to produce a successful skills policy – now it’s time for the devolved authorities to take over, argues Shane Chowen

Next to reforming technical education and apprenticeships, the devolution of the adult education budget to newly elected Metro-Mayors is up there as one of the most disruptive policy agendas in further education right now.

The Local Government Association, with research from Learning and Work Institute, has just published a report that proposes taking devolution to the next level.

I last wrote about devolution just before the local elections in 2016. Since then we’ve had the EU referendum, more local council elections, elections for mayors to lead combined authorities and, of course, an unexpected general election.

We now have metro mayors in the West Midlands, West of England, Tees Valley, Liverpool City Region, Greater Manchester and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, each with just a couple of years to plan for devolved adult skills funding in 2018/19.

George Osborne, when chancellor, fronted the Cities Devolution Act 2016 which paved the way for these powers to be devolved to major cities and city regions, saying at the time that this would give them “levers to grow their local economy”.

So these mayors now have an opportunity to do things differently, to come up with new models and ways of commissioning and integrating local services, including skills, health, policing, transport and employment. This is exactly what the Learning and Work Institute has been spending a lot of time thinking about and a new report for the Local Government Association published last week proposes a radical new approach for truly integrated local skills and employment services.

This approach goes far beyond what any political party offered at the last election

I don’t say radical lightly. For years, central government departments, primarily but not exclusively the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions, have not worked together towards a common skills policy. LGA has found 20 funding streams, managed by eight central government agencies, worth more than £10 billion a year for employment and skills. The Social Mobility Commission’s recent work looking at the last 20 years of social mobility policies shows very clearly that this overly centralised multi-agency approach is not delivering the outcomes people need and on which our economy increasingly relies.

We believe that good local control, with the right accountability to central government over budgets, policy, objective setting, partnerships and service design and delivery can help to match the skills people need to deliver the strong national economy of the future. By 2024, our research has shown, there will be short of four million high-skilled people and have an over-supply of two million people with intermediate skills and six million with low skills.

‘Work Local’ is one proposed new model, out for consultation, which introduces a one-stop service that brings together localised support services including adult skills, careers services and employment support, and makes full use of local assets including schools, colleges, libraries, universities and JPC centres, with a clear offer for individuals and employers.

This model, unlike the current system, provides a new level of flexibility to providers based on what works in their area and what works for the different types and needs of people they serve.

We’ve proposed a careful timetable leading up to the first trials taking place in 2022.

It’s a bold change, but change is needed. This approach goes far beyond what any political party offered at the last election but we believe this is essential in equipping colleges and training providers with the means to provide the education and training they know will best serve their communities without the silos and conflicts embedded in the systems we’ve got now.

Do take a look at the proposals and respond to the consultation by September 5.


Shane Chowen is head of policy and public affairs at the Learning and Work Institute

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