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Election Blog Week 3 – Manifesto Week

This week felt like the biggest week of the election so far, with all the main parties, Reform UK aside, formally setting out their proposals in manifestos. Day by day we had a new manifesto to pore over – Liberal Democrats on Monday, Conservatives on Tuesday, Greens on Wednesday and Labour on Thursday. Thankfully Friday is a manifesto-free day, and a chance to take stock. 

It has been a fascinating week for the sector, shining a light on the growing influence of skills policies on the political agenda, and in many cases the culmination of years of effort to shape policy. One major positive is that skills policies have rarely been so prominent in an election campaign, showing that the messages AELP and others have been communicating, that skills is essential to growth, is finally breaking through. 

In one sense it is no surprise that skills policy is so prominent. Polling by Public First this week showed just how popular technical education and apprenticeships are with voters, particularly in swing seats where ‘increase the number of apprenticeships available for young people and older adults' was the most popular form of education spending. This builds on anecdotal evidence that skills policy is popular on the doorstep. 

Looking at the manifestos in reverse order lets start with the Labour manifesto. There were some tantalising phrases and omissions from the manifesto, which may offer a glimpse into the future direction of the Skills and Growth Levy. Missing was the commitment to allowing levy payers up to 50% of levy funds on non-apprenticeship programmes, while there was a reference to the ‘rigid rules’ stopping access to apprenticeships. While this does not necessarily mean the end of the 50% flex, the change in emphasis from an arbitrary number to a concern for the rigidity of the system is welcome and reflects some of the work AELP has been doing with the Shadow Cabinet. 

We also got a bit more detail on Skills England and the scope of its remit, much of which has AELPs fingerprints over it. We know 

  • It will formally work with the Migration Advisory Council, explicitly linking skills policy and migration policy while ‘ensuring that migration to address skills shortages triggers a plan to upskill workers’ 
  • Provide a framework for cross-departmental work 
  • Consult on what courses can be funded through the Skills and Growth Levy, ensuring ‘value for money’ 
  • Skills England will coordinate between local areas to ensure everyone can access all the opportunities available. 

One of the big questions hanging over this is where this leaves the role of IfATE, and whether Skills England will lead to it having a reduced role. 

As we know the Conservatives' big play on skills is the promise for 100,000 new apprenticeships, funded through cutting funding for one in eight degrees. Deep in the manifesto costings section we got a proposed timetable for the ramping up of funding, with £232m in 2025/26 rising steadily to £886m in 2029/30. Whilst committing to more Skills Bootcamps and the reform of A Levels and post 16 qualifications via the Advanced British Standard.  

Finally, the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto had a clutch of skills policies, including a more flexible levy and removing Ofsted single-word judgements. Perhaps the most interesting policy in the manifesto is the continued advocacy of Skills Wallets, with each learner getting £5,000 in their account. This would be a great way of empowering learners, putting them at the heart of the system, rather than the type of provider. 

The Green Party manifesto came in slightly under the radar, but contained the ambitious promise of £12bn investment in skills and lifelong learning for further education. Current polling suggests the party could have a couple of MPs in the next parliament, and it would be welcome to see that ambition brought to parliament. 

The week following manifestos will likely see each deconstructed in the media, picked apart line by line. There are already questions being asked about how Labour and the Conservatives would avoid big spending cuts to non-protected departments such as further education. I will hopefully touch on this more next week. 

While polling day is 4 July, something often underappreciated is that postal votes are already being sent out. This means voting for the General Election has already started. In the last few elections the number of postal voters has steadily increased to around a fifth of the electorate, meaning the parties will be appealing to a slowly shrinking number of voters between now and polling day. This is why manifestos have been released this week, to appeal to all voters.  

Remember, if you haven't yet registered to vote, you have until midnight on Tuesday 18 June to do so! With so much at stake for our sector make your vote count. 

Have a good weekend! 

Election Blog Week 3 – Manifesto Week

This week felt like the biggest week of the election so far, with all the main parties, Reform UK aside, formally setting out their proposals in manifestos.

Last published: 14/06/2024