This budget delivers for FE learners and the sector

FE faces a financial struggle but government is committed to supporting the sector as we build a skills and apprenticeships nation, writes Robert Halfon MP

FE faces a financial struggle but government is committed to supporting the sector as we build a skills and apprenticeships nation, writes Robert Halfon MP

17 Mar 2023, 6:00

Age should not be a barrier to upskilling or retraining and getting the job you want. The Budget highlighted our efforts to build a skills and apprenticeships nation and get more people into rewarding work, including removing barriers for older workers.

As a 53-year-old myself, I know the value of experience in the workplace. In the modern economy, we need skills and real-world experience more than ever before.

That is why we we’ve launched our new ‘returnerships’ initiative to encourage workers over 50 to get back into work and embark on exciting new career ventures.

As well as apprenticeships, many of which are a great fit for more experienced workers, this will be backed by a £34 million boost to our successful skills bootcamps scheme. These provide fully-funded, intensive courses in skills for in-demand sectors like digital and green technology, and we’ve already invested £550 million between 2022 and 2025.

This is fantastic news for adult learners, with 8,000 set to benefit from these transformational courses. We’re bringing together existing skills offers to encourage them to get back into work via a training course. This is about supporting older people with a recognisable path back into work, making sure our existing skills programmes are accessible and provide the skills and support needed to thrive in a job and continue to climb the ladder of opportunity.

This is also great news for the sector. Skills bootcamps, and other adult learning programmes like our free courses for jobs, enable FE providers to broaden their learner base to people who might not otherwise engage with FE.

The Budget also announced an expansion of the Department for Work and Pensions’ sector-based work academy programme (known as SWAP). This is about identifying skills needs in a local area and allocating resources to get people receiving unemployment benefits trained up to fill them.

Work placements arranged through the scheme help businesses to recruit talented workers and get people into rewarding work. 

In the Budget, we have also launched a refocussed investment zones programme, aimed at boosting productivity and growth in key areas. Coupled with the huge expansion of free childcare to support parents and enable more of them to return to work, we really are delivering for hard working people across the country.

Our wider skills agenda also continues at pace alongside existing commitments. Earlier in March, I was proud to publish our response on the lifelong loan entitlement (LLE) which will be introduced from 2025. The LLE will transform the student finance system, empowering more people to study throughout their life, even if they have other commitments like childcare, caring or work.

I also recognise that the FE sector is facing financial challenges, and we have made changes to increase the sector’s funding. In the 2021 Spending Review we announced a £1.6 billion uplift in funding for 16-19 provision in 2024-25, compared to 2021-22. Likewise, in the adult education budget we are increasing earnings for providers in non-devolved areas.

We’ve given an additional £53 million of capital funding to FE colleges in 2022/23 to support them to improve their energy efficiency, and a further £150 million to support colleges making adjustments following the ONS reclassification of the sector.

This is on top of the £2.8 billion investment in skills capital that was announced at the last Spending Review to improve the FE estate and support the rollout of Institutes of Technology and new qualifications such as T Levels, with a 10 per cent uplift to T Level funding for the next academic year, as well as £12 million to help deliver crucial industry placements for learners. 

I want to reassure the sector that these funding commitments remain in place. This financial support helps the sector to deliver its vital services and I will continue to work with you to understand how we can support you in building a skills and apprenticeships nation.

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