The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) welcomes ambitions in the levelling up white paper, but further skills investment is needed, if the government’s ambitions are to be fully realised.
AELP welcomes much of the content of the white paper – for example the aspiration that skills, schools, and families will be at the heart of government plans to improve public services and level up left behind areas. The recognition that skills should be at the heart of levelling up is to be celebrated when much early talk about levelling up focussed on infrastructure instead of people
However, AELP has concerns that the document is light on details which make it impossible to make a judgement on whether government plans are likely to succeed. On the face of it, the white paper seems to be a repackaging of existing announcements and funding commitments. AELP have urged ministers to bring forward more details – as quickly as possible.
AELP have also outlined their position on a number of announcements in the white paper as follows:
The white paper is expected to include news that 55 ‘cold spots’ in England will receive targeted investment, support and action as part of a package of measures to boost take-up of high-quality training. This will target 200,000 more people each year by 2030 - including 80,000 more completing courses in areas of England with the “lowest skills levels”. AELP support these moves but urge further detail on how they plan to achieve this – and essentially how this relates to promised level 2 review.
Devolution and the Adult Education Budget
AELP keenly anticipates further announcements on skills devolution. AELP supports the devolution of skills programmes where evidence points towards improved take-up and delivery. However, we believe some programmes- such as apprenticeships and traineeships- are best contracted at a national level. There may be risks to further skills devolution. A diverse approach to commissioning can mean that providers are bidding for multiple different pots of funding in multiple different formats. This impacts on their ability to deliver a fully joined-up skills offer to employers operating at a regional and national level.
Adult Education Budget (AEB) commissioning needs to be reformed and must be fair and open to all providers with decisions based on track record and ability to deliver. Devolving more of the AEB could mean more money ends up directly with adult learners – with Tees Valley Combined Authority leading the way on fully commissioning the budget- meaning all providers are treated with parity.
Longer-term AEB funding settlements would give training providers much-needed financial stability, allowing them to make longer-term commitments and capital investments in infrastructure with confidence and in turn supporting the future skills growth in localities.
Further devolution could mean much greater opportunity for providers to do well in AEB procurement rounds, but the risk is increased workload and bureaucracy, with similar challenges around parity of treatment for providers in most areas.
UK Shared Prosperity Fund
Independent Training Providers (ITPs) delivered the majority of the European Social Fund dedicated to skills, so the shape of the UKSPF will have a significant impact on providers. The Chancellor said in the 2021 spending review that UKSPF would “at least match EU receipts”, but there is lack of clarity on whether this includes the UK- government match-funding amount- which doubled the overall funding available.
The UKSPF should be weighted towards funding skills, with programmes funded to support the needs of adult learners with lower levels of qualification, and those who are otherwise disadvantaged.
Ministers should take note of roll out of the Community Renewal Fund (CRF), a precursor to the UKSPF, which was fraught with issues – including how areas of need were identified and long delays to the commissioning process. AELP urges ministers to release more details of how the new fund will work.
Young people and levelling up
Young people’s progress in the job market has been blighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Levelling up should mean that every young person can have the opportunity to undertake an apprenticeship, traineeship, or work placement. This should include appropriate incentives for employers, especially SMEs. There must be much more focus on access to level 2 and below qualifications, so the most disadvantaged can gain access to the labour market, which they might otherwise be excluded from.
The levelling up white paper talks about harnessing talent and opportunity and increasing quality jobs in disadvantaged areas. These ambitions will be little more than rhetoric without adequate investment in skills in localities, linked to local labour market needs and with parity of treatment for providers.
Furthermore, the national careers advice system is fragmented and, in some areas, lacks coverage to ensure that all individuals have access to high quality careers information, advice and guidance. Careers advice should be accessible for all-ages, in every locality, with good links between schools and training providers, to ensure levelling up is a success.
Jane Hickie, AELP Chief Executive, said:
“Up until now, ‘levelling up’ investment has focused on places and infrastructure rather than people, so the fact the white paper includes strong ambitions around skills is of course welcome. If the levelling up agenda is to be a success, it needs to prioritise getting people work-ready and into jobs across the country.
The success of ‘levelling up’ is reliant on a sustainable skills system. While we welcome many ambitions in the white paper, we remain concerned that these ambitions will not be realised without sufficient investment in the learning and employability programmes that are proven to deliver the skills that communities and local economies need. We need to see more detail on how the government expects to achieve this.”
The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) is a national membership body, proudly representing around 800 organisations. AELP members support thousands of businesses and millions of learners in England by delivering a wide range of training, vocational learning, and employability programmes.
For further information or for interviews please contact Matt Strong, Communications Manager, AELP, on 07920 161685 or [email protected]