Around the Conferences 2023 - The Labour Party
Finishing party conference season for the Association of Employment and Learning Providers, this week we visited Liverpool for the Labour Party Conference.
The Labour Party has been out of power for 13 years, but this week’s conference felt like a party ready to govern, grappling with serious issues of public service reform, fiscal headroom, and how to win back the trust of voters. For example, the exhibition space at Conservative Party conference was not sold out, whereas demand was massive for the Labour conference. Everyone wants a piece of the next government.
If there are two catchphrases to come out of conference they would be ‘there is no money’ and ‘national renewal’. It is the gap between these two that the party is grappling with.
People often say they don’t know what Labour’s big vision is, or what Sir Keir Starmer stands for, but I think after this conference we can safely say it is unlikely we will get a big vision beyond the five missions. These are:
- Get Britain building again.
- Switch on Great British Energy.
- Get the NHS back on its feet.
- Take back our streets.
- Break down barriers to opportunity.
Their idea is that government will focus on these five long term issues, working cross departmentally, rather than in silos. This would be welcome for skills policy, and is something we have called for; however we should wait and see what happens when the idea meets reality.
Skills will play a central role in each of these missions, from training the construction sector and the health and care sectors to breaking down barriers to opportunities for each learner. We know that investing in skills means investing in Britain’s capacity to get things done. That makes the absence of skills in the main set piece speeches notable.
There was one notable skills announcement made during conference. Further Education colleges will be able to bid to become ‘technical excellence colleges’, which will be managed by the proposed new skills body, Skills England. However, detail on this policy is very light, and some in the sector will have been wanting more detail on Labour’s plans for technical education. Let’s hope that detail will come soon.
For AELP, it was another fruitful conference working with partners in the Future Skills Coalition. The coalition had a programme of events in our dedicated event space, with speakers such as the new Skills Minister Seema Malhotra, and Lord Blunkett, Chair of Labour’s skills review. Labour figures were very receptive to bringing in a national skills strategy to sit alongside an industrial strategy, which is something we think is imperative.
Reflecting on party conference season, I think this has been a success for the sector. The conferences were packed with events on skills policy, and there was a widespread belief across all three conferences that the skills system is simply not meeting demand. It’s not just about government though. Across each week figures in the skills sector have been sharing ideas, talking about collaboration, and making new connections. Some of these new connections can hopefully play some part in helping to propel the sector forward.
One stat from UCAS jumps out at me more than any other. It says it gets 500,000 expressions of interest in apprenticeships each year, with only around 10,000 places. There is clearly demand from learners and demand from business - government now needs to allow providers to thrive.