Local skills plans need evolution, not revolution from the next government

A new report offers early insight on how LSIPs can be supported and further improved to ensure they have continued relevance

A new report offers early insight on how LSIPs can be supported and further improved to ensure they have continued relevance

21 Jun 2024, 6:00

We’re almost at the first anniversary of the publication of local skills improvement plans (LSIPs) across all 38 areas across England, though in Lancashire we’ve had the trailblazer up and running since 2022.

In our area, colleges are no stranger to collaboration: we’ve been working together since 1998 on a range of projects under The Lancashire Colleges (TLC) banner.

Together, we represent 11 colleges, including general further education and tertiary colleges, sixth form colleges, and a specialist land-based college. Our unique geography means we serve cities, towns, urban, rural and coastal communities with diverse populations, and therefore, are the perfect testbed for skills policy-making. 

I was pleased to discuss the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022 and our experiences, particularly around ways we can best meet local skills needs, at the APPG on FE and lifelong learning.

The act has made notable strides in several areas, particularly in enhancing employer engagement, improving the quality of technical education, and beginning to address social mobility and inclusivity.

However, challenges remain. Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming general election, the next government must work with colleges to deliver long-term local and national education and skills priorities.
 
LSIPs have laudable aims: identifying, articulating and delivering on the long-term skills needs within an area. TLC has been welcomed as genuine partners in the development of the LSIP; colleagues from the Chamber of Commerce have been in our colleges, at our employer partnership events, and have worked with us collaboratively throughout, to generate a plan that is owned by us all.

Connecting with local employers has always been a central priority for TLC, but this renewed focus has enabled us to form relationships with employers who have not previously engaged with the skills system.

Funding is currently too complex, bureaucratic and restrictive

We have been lucky in the approach, but for too many areas there hasn’t been enough consistency, including in the way and extent to which colleges have been engaged in LSIP development.

Colleges have unrivalled links with local authorities, employers and other key stakeholders. We are also the only part of the education system with a statutory duty to meet local skills needs. Shouldn’t we therefore be around the decision-making table? By making it a truly equal partnership, we can reduce complexity and give everyone confidence that the LSIP is the right plan.

At a time when FE funding is challenging, we have been able to deliver significant projects through the strategic development fund (SDF) and later, the local skills improvement fund (LSIF).

In Lancashire, we used the SDF to consult over 1,000 employers and developed 35 new short courses to meet their needs. Over 3,000 students immediately benefitted from new learning spaces and equipment, with over 2,000 hours of CPD delivered. This is helping employers to think differently and helping colleges to plan our curriculum for the long term.
 
However, the funding is currently too complex, bureaucratic and restrictive. This can undermine our ability to deliver on LSIPs. Short-term, ring-fenced pots do not allow us to invest in long-term strategies. Capital and revenue splits prevent us from spending in the way we need.

It’s all well and good having industry-grade kit, but we also need the revenue funding for the staff to deliver the courses.

The Lancashire experience – the challenges, opportunities and suggestions for development – have been captured well in AoC’s new report ‘Local skills improvement plans: a review of their impact and opportunities for the future’. This research provides early insight on how LSIPs can be supported and further improved to ensure they have continued relevance, longevity and become embedded as an intrinsic feature of the skills landscape.

As tempting as it can often be for policy makers to scrap initiatives and start afresh, my plea is for evolution, not revolution. Fairly minor changes to partnerships, funding and accountability can unlock a wealth of opportunities. These would go a long way in giving colleges the freedom and confidence to really run with tackling longstanding challenges in our local and national skills systems.

LSIPs have great core principles; let’s make them work as a strategic approach to skills improvement planning, that supports growth in the local, regional and national economy.

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