LSIPs: Colleges call for long-term funding and shared accountability

AoC reviews the flagship policy one year on from the national rollout

AoC reviews the flagship policy one year on from the national rollout

College leaders have pleaded for long-term funding to fulfil local skills improvement plan (LSIP) demands and have called on the government to spread accountability for the flagship policy to universities and other post-16 providers.  

A report by the Association of Colleges (AoC) today reviewed the plans one year on from their rollout.  

Introduced in the Skills for Jobs white paper, the Department for Education tasked 38 “employer representative bodies” (ERBs) with spelling out the changes needed to make frontline education and training more responsive to employer needs in their areas.  

The ERBs, 32 of whom are chambers of commerce, are paid £550,000 each over three years. Colleges, employers, local authorities and other post-16 providers can feed into the plans.  

The Conservative and Labour parties have suggested that LSIPs would stay in place if either were to form the next government, according to the AoC. 

The research found evidence of some early success, with colleges connecting with local employers who had not previously engaged with the skills system and “strengthening ways of working across local networks”.  

But colleges warned the plans will need to evolve to be a success.   

They raised concerns about LSIPs existing in a vacuum of any national strategy, with colleges facing a multitude of local and regional plans, driving complexity rather than coherence.  

‘We’ve got all the kit, but no staff to use it’

Leaders also slammed “piecemeal” funding that “lacks strategic direction” and any long-term commitment.  

The local skills improvement fund (LSIF) was launched to help colleges and providers action LSIPs. The fund is split across two financial years – £80 million in 2023-24  (£40 million for revenue and £40 million for capital funding). Another £85 million set aside for 2024-25 is for capital only.  

The AoC’s report said the “chief concern” is the capital and revenue split. College leaders all said that the lack of revenue funding prevented them from addressing supply-side challenges, particularly the crisis in recruiting and retaining teaching staff for technical subjects such as engineering and manufacturing, the most common priority identified in LSIPs.  

One unnamed college boss said: “We’ve got all the kit, but we have no teaching staff to use it. We can’t afford them. We can’t recruit them.” 

The capital/revenue split also doesn’t align to the needs identified in the LSIPs. For example, digital skills – the fourth highest priority across LSIPs – cannot be addressed through further capital spend. 

Leaders also expressed frustrations with accountability. 

Colleges must publish an annual accountability statement to demonstrate they are fulfilling their statutory duty to adhere to the aim of their LSIP. No such requirement is placed on other partners, such as universities, sixth forms or private training providers. 

Some colleges told the AoC that they were confused about what they’re supposed to be accountable for. They also said colleges should be able to lead LSIPs on the same level as ERBs if they are the only institution to be held accountable for their implementation. 

‘Evolution is needed’

The report also highlighted the “wicked problem” of employer engagement. 

“Whilst recognising that the LSIPs are still very new, all participants described their disappointment in the low levels of employers engaging and contributing throughout the LSIP process.  

“Colleges report offering ERBs access to their own extensive employer networks and forums to boost the numbers participating, but note that ERBs often struggled to accept this offer due to lack of capacity.”  

There is a risk that employers “passively set demands or expectations” on the system, “without reflecting on where and how they might take action, including both in the nature of the jobs they are recruiting for and investment in training and development of the workforce”, the report said.  

It concluded that there is no evidence that the LSIP process and product has “acted to stimulate investment from employers” despite this being a priority for the government.  

David Hughes, the chief executive of AoC, said: “College leaders have made it clear that to truly meet the ambition, evolution is needed in how LSIPs fit within the wider system.  

“The next government will need to have a strong focus on inclusive economic growth and the provision needed to help local people meet the growing skills shortages.”  

Jane Gratton, the deputy director of public policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The next government must build on the success of LSIPs, ensure they are a key component of local, regional and national economic strategies and fund them for the long term.” 

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