Sadiq Khan has slammed the government for cutting mayoral authorities out from leading new local skills improvement plan (LSIPs) pilots.
Employer representative bodies were this week asked to come forward to spearhead trials of the policy that are central to the FE white paper reforms.
The plans will aim to make colleges align the courses they offer to local employers’ needs and are hoped to address concerns that businesses do not currently have enough influence over the skills provision offered in their area.
Bids for the pilot require a “lead” that must be an “employer representative body”. Controversially, the Department for Education says it does “not consider mayoral combined authorities, local enterprise partnerships and skills advisory panels to be business representative organisations, so they are not eligible”.
This is despite MCAs and LEPs having already created their own skills plans in recent years following devolution of the adult education budget.
London mayor Sadiq Khan lambasted the exclusion. “It’s a disappointment that the Department for Education has decided to cut City Hall out from leading the pilot of new local skills improvement plans,” a spokesperson for London Labour and the mayor told FE Week.
“Since Sadiq was elected he has worked efficiently with businesses, providers, boroughs and national agencies to deliver on the adult education budget. What is needed is more, not less, devolution.”
The spokesperson added that local businesses have an “important role” to play in delivering the new LSIPs but this “should be done in partnership with the Mayor of London”.
“Established” employer representative bodies can include chambers of commerce and membership organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry.
The plans will be piloted in six to eight trailblazer areas this year, backed with £4 million in revenue funding. The funding must be spent by the end of March 2022.
Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said she is “confident” that accredited chambers of commerce across the country are “well placed to play a leading role in developing these robust skills plans”.
“If delivered in full, these plans will put businesses on the front foot in training their workforce, providing a welcome boost to national productivity,” she added.
In application guidance published on Tuesday, the DfE said the plans will “set out the key changes needed to make technical skills training more responsive to employers’ skills needs within a local area”.
They should be created in collaboration with colleges and training providers, with employers “setting out a credible and evidence-based assessment of their skills needs, to which providers will be empowered to respond”.
Keith Smith, director for post-16 strategy at the Department for Education, told an FE Week webcast last month that new legislation is being worked on to enable the education secretary to intervene where colleges refuse to deliver courses decided through LSIPs.
While MCAs and LEPs cannot lead the pilots, the DfE’s guidance does say they will “have an important role to play in developing” the plans and should be consulted by the employer representative bodies.
The West Midlands Combined Authority, currently led by Conservative mayor Andy Street, was upbeat about their potential. “We hope that the pilots enable further innovation in the sector to ensure that flexible skills delivery is at the heart of our economic recovery,” a spokesperson from the authority said.
“As the main commissioners of adult skills funding, we will be keen to learn from other pilots.”
Similarly, chief executive of the LEP Network Mark Livesey welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the pilots, even if his members couldn’t lead them.
“Although LEPs are not able to apply directly for these pilots, bodies intending to submit local skills improvement plans would certainly be wise to utilise the impartial expertise and brokering capability of LEPs and their DfE-backed skills advisory panels if they are to replicate the depth of knowledge and experience of local skills needs, as well as connect with the many businesses who are not members of employer representative bodies,” he said.
Expressions of interest are being sought until May 25. Bids must be submitted via email to Skills.Accelerator@education.gov.uk