Labour’s ‘securonomics’ is a golden opportunity for our sector

The shadow chancellor’s recent speech was a tantalising glimpse of what the skills sector could mean to a new government

The shadow chancellor’s recent speech was a tantalising glimpse of what the skills sector could mean to a new government

29 Mar 2024, 5:00

Rachel Reeves gave a speech last week that could be hugely significant for the work-based skills sector. It opened the door to showing her and the Labour team just what we can contribute to their plan for the nation.

Securonomics: joining the dots

In delivering the 36th annual Mais Lecture at Bayes Business School, Reeves laid out Labour’s burgeoning economic strategy under the title of ‘Securonomics’. The approach applies to everything from the tax framework to investment strategy and from planning reform to employment rights. 

The name signals that growth comes from giving people, companies and the country the security they need to achieve more (and more sustainable) growth.

Tantalisingly for the work-based skills sector, skills got a lot of attention during the speech. As well as restating known policies like the Growth and Skills Levy, devolution of adult education budgets and the creation of Skills England, she also laid out many of the dots that will need to be joined up to create the unified skills strategy we seek.

Sector-led input on how to join up these dots represents a golden opportunity to drive home our key asks.

An essential sector

Securonomics, we learned, has three key imperatives: stability, investment and “reform to unlock the contribution of working people and the untapped potential throughout our economy”. In case that last one is too vague, Reeves later added that “addressing the skills gap is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for economic success”.

So she ‘gets’ skills as a high-level issue, one that is as much about equality and happiness as it is about GDP and productivity.  She talked about breaking free from “a vicious cycle in which inequality widens while growth stutters.”

We must reinforce this message at every turn: Skills means growth!

The everyday economy

Refreshingly, while Reeves name-checked the usual suspects of political rhetoric on skills (“creative industries, professional and financial services, AI and other digital technologies, life sciences, and renewable energy”), she also celebrated “the everyday economy”. Here, she listed often overlooked sectors in skills discourse: “retail, care, transport, delivery, utilities, and more.” 

Nuclear engineers and AI programmers can’t do their best work if there is no one to care for their parents, look after their children, service their vehicles or brew their coffee. Pressing home this point creates an opening for us to make the case for increased funding and qualification reform for these vital “everyday economy” sectors. 

Exporting our expertise

Reeves’s securonomics acknowledges that post-Brexit Britain must export as much as it can in those sectors where we have a unique advantage. Correct! And FE is one of those sectors.

Whether that’s in the form of awarding and qualifications, software, advisory services or training providers, government should treasure the skills sector’s global reach. Imagine how much more we could do if we were feted, funded and regulated as well as , say, the life sciences, AI or offshore technology.

Beware mini-Whitehalls

While there is broad recognition that devolving to localities and regions can be valuable, there is real fear that it will lead to a proliferation of mini-Whitehalls. One is plenty!

Reeves argues that devolution works because it means decisions are made at the best level for information and insight. That’s a quarter of the story; there’s also the power of local passion, the resilience that comes from strong relationships and the determination of focused action.

Devolution that’s all about “analysis” and “decisions” is a poorer vision than one centred on action and results.

Beyond sticking plasters

Finally and crucially, Reeves argues that if you lack resilience, you can only respond to shocks by applying sticking plasters. She sees  ‘securonomics’ as the way for the country to be strong enough to respond to such shocks strategically and effectively. 

The same applies to the work-based skills sector: insufficient funding, disproportionate regulation and ever-changing schemes have undermined our resilience. Witness the number of providers who have been forced out of business.

If the likely next Chancellor wants securonomics to work, she will do well to start with the security and resilience of the skills sector.  Given the attention, support and funding it needs, it can be a key part of the foundation for our whole country’s future success.

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