Mayoral combined authorities have criticised the government’s drive to simplify adult education funding, claiming that the plans do not go far enough.
The Department for Education is consulting on measures to reform adult education funding through its Skills for Jobs paper. It proposes to simplify the process by bringing the adult education budget (AEB) and free courses for jobs funding into a single “skills fund” from 2023/24.
The combined authorities, which have the responsibility to administer the AEB in their area as part of their devolved powers, said the new skills fund should also incorporate the funding streams for skills bootcamps – flexible courses of up to 16 weeks to address specific skills shortages – as well as 16 to 24 traineeships.
A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority said: “Creating a single skills fund including all elements of post-19 funding and extending local flexibilities would be welcomed in our area. This would greatly help to support the delivery of our employment and skills strategy to upskill and/or reskill our citizens.”
A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “The single skills fund must go further, bringing together all post-16 skills and employment budgets, including careers advice, apprenticeships, traineeships and further education capital funding, as well as the programmes that have been developed since the publication of the Department for Education’s Skills for Jobs white paper.
“This must be done with flexibility to respond to the needs of our local communities and economies.”
West Midlands, North of Tyne, Tees Valley, South Yorkshire and West of England combined authorities agreed that having more funding pots in a single fund would provide greater flexibility for local needs.
The consultation had originally been due to close on September 21, but the DfE on Friday confirmed that had been extended to October 12 to “give some stakeholders more time to engage with proposals”.
The department said its proposals for putting the AEB and free courses for jobs into a new skills fund would help its levelling up mission by having 200,000 more people a year completing skills training, including 80,000 more in the lowest skills areas by 2030.
In its consultation document it said it “should help providers plan provision; as well as making it easier for the public to understand what funded courses are available to them”.
Last month, FE Week disclosed that West Midlands and West Yorkshire combined authorities had already begun simplifying the administration of the existing AEB and free courses for jobs funds – for which the authorities receive separate allocations from central government – to effectively have them appear as a single pot for the purposes of commissioning for providers.
The free courses for jobs pot can only be used to fund eligible learners under criteria for that scheme – those aged 18 and above without a level 3 qualification who are able to access a fully-funded level 3 qualification, or a second qualification if they are unemployed or earn below the real living wage.
The government recognised in its first-stage consultation that some respondents wanted to see skills bootcamps and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund as part of the simplified AEB pot, but the Department for Education said that skills bootcamps were a national priority and would “remain funded through the DfE either by direct grant to local areas, or through national procurement”.
For traineeships, the DfE said it wants to progress 16- to 24-year-olds into apprenticeships, employment or further learning and confirmed it plans to “undertake further work to ensure that this is done in the most effective way possible”. It said it will return with an update.
This year, £60 million of the £2.5 billion National Skills Fund was set aside for skills bootcamps, while £126 million was invested in traineeship starts in 2021/22.
Consultation responses will be collated after October 12 and assessed by Whitehall chiefs before the next steps are announced.