Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, Report Stage House of Lords, 12 October 2021

Throughout the pandemic, councils were trusted to lead the employment and skills recovery in their areas.


Key messages

  • Good jobs and career opportunities where people live are central to the Government’s levelling up ambitions. Throughout the pandemic, councils were trusted to lead the employment and skills recovery in their areas.
  • Adults and young people deserve access to quality education and training opportunities provided by a joined up, place-based employment, skills and careers system. Local government – councils and mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) – can play a crucial role in making the skills and employment system work for their areas, convening all local partners, and providing strong strategic and democratic oversight.
  • The Bill provides for a statutory underpinning for local skills improvement plans (LSIPs) and introduces a power for the Secretary of State for Education to designate employer representative bodies (ERBs) to lead the development of LSIPs. Further education (FE) providers will have a duty to co-operate with these plans. In devolution areas, final drafts of LSIPs will need to be approved by Mayoral Combined Authorities, while outside of devolution areas LSIPs will be approved directly by the Secretary of State.
  • The LGA supports the Bill’s ambition to give local employers a strong role in the skills system through LSIPs. However, this should be done as part of an integrated, place-based approach to deliver sustained outcomes for residents and businesses. To achieve the best outcomes in every area, local authorities should be named as a core and strategic partner in the LSIP process alongside Employer Representative Bodies.
  • Unless local authorities have a meaningful role in the development and approval of LSIPs, there is a risk that these reforms could create further fragmentation within the skills system which may result in further education (FE) providers being subject to different skills plans; disruption of progression pathways for learners, and a lack of local democratic accountability for local outcomes.
  • More widely, councils should be empowered to coordinate an integrated skills and employment offer for their areas through a new ‘Community Skills Lead’ role. This would bring strategic responsibility to plan adult education, and enable councils to work with the proposed employer representative bodies and FE providers to align provision.
  • The Bill’s provision for training at level 3 (A-Level or equivalent) and above is welcome. To truly level up, investment in skills at Level 2 (GSCE or equivalent) and below is also needed to support those who are furthest from the labour market and those with the least qualifications to secure quality jobs and close long-term regional productivity gaps. To accelerate and expand lower-level training opportunities, the Adult Education Budget (AEB) should, as a minimum be restored to its 2010 levels (from £1.5 to £3 billion).
  • Local and combined authorities are ambitious to do more to join up local provision to create local, integrated skills and employment offers tailored to the needs of local economies and residents. We will be working with the Government to ensure that the changes put forward in this Bill make use of local government’s expertise to deliver the best outcomes for every community.

Amendment statements

Amendment 11, Local Skills Improvement Plans, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, Lord Lucas, Lord Storey and Lord Aberdare

This Amendment makes provision for Local Skills Improvement Plans to be developed in partnership with local authorities, including Mayoral Combined Authorities, to ensure they reflect the needs of learners, residents and employers.

LGA View:

  • The LGA supports this amendment. Local authorities and MCAs have wide-ranging functions in the skills system and play a vital role in knitting together local and national interventions to make the skills and employment system work for their communities. 
  • Missing the opportunity to embed effective collaboration risks introducing additional complexity for employers, individuals and providers, and disrupting pathways of progression from lower to higher levels of learning.   
  • Effective partnership working between employer representative bodies (ERBs), local authorities and MCAs will be essential to ensure that LSIPs join up with other local and regional strategies, planning and provision, including local authorities and MCAs wide-ranging functions in the skills system. Integration at the local level will be vital to support the skills talent pipeline and join up skill and occupational pathways of progression, to support people to progress from community learning and lower-level qualifications into higher-levels of technical training in their area.
  • Supporting adults to be work and learning ready must also sit alongside developing higher-level skills. Local government can help to strategically align LSIPs with other local services and support that enables people, particularly those with the least qualifications and those furthest from the job market to access training. This includes access to quality careers and employment advice, in addition to a range of other support such as health services; support for parents; childcare support; housing support and debt advice. 
  • If higher technical skills are to be the sole focus of LSIPs, providers will have a new legal obligation to meet the delivery of this training in a way that they do not currently have for other skills and qualifications at a lower level. We are concerned that this could skew the balance of provision within an area and disrupt the ‘skills escalator’ from lower to higher levels of training. Lower-level skills provision, with pathways that allow people to progress from community-based, pre-entry level learning through to Level 3, act as a springboard to higher level qualifications and are equally important. Local Authorities and MCAs can help ensure LSIPs integrate and align with local skills provision at every level, so that all residents can access training and have local opportunities to progress.

Further information

Local government’s role in post-16 skills and education

  • Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) have devolved responsibilities for over half of England’s Adult Education Budget (AEB) and are responsible for the planning of adult education in their areas and a range of other related functions. MCAs should have a clear, distinct and leading role in the further education offer for their local area working with employers, providers, and constituent local authorities as they do now.
  • Local authorities also have wide-ranging functions that are vital to make the skills and employment system work for their local communities and economies. Councils should be empowered to coordinate an integrated skills and employment offer for their areas have through a new ‘Community Skills Lead’ role. This would bring strategic responsibility to plan adult education, and enable councils to work with the proposed employer representative bodies and local FE providers to align provision.
  • Local authorities’ wide-ranging functions and responsibilities in the skills and employment system include:
    • Through the pandemic, local authorities were trusted to coordinate employment, training and business support for their local area and establish redundancy / recovery taskforces, bringing together the suite of partners to make swift decisions.
    • Delivering adult and community education to level 2 in a variety of community settings, and to identify, promote and incentivise residents with low qualifications to engage in further learning.
    • Statutory duties, including to plan young people’s learning for their area, re-engage young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) and support young people with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).
    • Supporting young people and adults with complex barriers to be training or work ready through wide ranging services, including public health and its link into health services; youth services; support for parents through Family Information Services; childcare support; housing support and debt advice. 
    • Running their own devolved or discretionary employment and skills services, and working closely with national agencies and providers including Jobcentre Plus and National Careers Service to provide a tailored local offer.
    • Connecting, simplifying and promoting multiple national employment, training, skills and economic growth initiatives, including the current Plan for Jobs initiatives such as Kickstart, so they are greater than the sum of their parts. They play a lead role in Levelling Up Fund, Community Renewal Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund. 
    • Economic development and inward investment functions allow them to work directly with existing and incoming businesses, representative bodies (Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses) and work closely with all further education providers and often support capital investments to improve the local further education estate. They are uniquely placed to understand current and future skills demand and supply of their local economy.
    • Data analysis and planning: perform granular analysis of national data and generate their own data to ensure national / local provision is targeted and use this to develop and connect growth, inward investment, SME, employment and skills strategies and input to wider spatial strategies.
       

Local authorities’ adult and community education provision

  • Council-run adult and community education (ACE) is the cornerstone of adult learning and supports 600,000 adults a year on their journey to learn skills; to enter, return or progress in work, and support their personal, social and health needs. Without it, many of the hardest to reach, vulnerable or isolated residents that access these services every year would not progress into further learning and work.
  • Ofsted judged 92 per cent of adult community learning (ACL) services as good or outstanding, making them the best performing part of the FE sector. ACE is successful because it works with the grain of other local services including employment, regeneration, education, health and culture, and adds value to each, as well as connecting with agencies like Jobcentre Plus. 
  • Level 3 provision alone will not deliver the levelling up agenda, nor address longer-term productivity gaps in many areas of the country. A mixed and balanced skills funding offer is essential and must include support for community skills, basic and functional skills, technical skills, and higher-level skills. 
  • There is an urgent need to prioritise and fund activity to help adults progress from community-based, pre-entry level learning through to Level 2. Training at Level 2 is primarily provided by local authority adult and community learning (ACL) services who are experts in delivering community outreach and the intensive work required to meet need below Level 3.
  • Funding for adult skills mainly comes from the £1.5 billion annual Adult Education Budget (AEB), which has been vital in providing support for those without Level 2 to improve their basic skills and gain essential qualifications, and where it is devolved, MCAs have used it innovatively to deliver better outcomes for learners. The overall AEB funding pot has reduced by 50 per cent over the last decade, which has coincided with a drop in learner numbers. The Government should:
    • At the very least restore adult skills funding (Level 2 and below) to 2010 levels and devolve it to all local and combined authorities.
    • Focus efforts on supporting and funding both those specialising in Level 3 qualifications and below and those delivering above level 3, to work together and better align pathways of progression from lower to higher levels of training.
    • Ensure the integral role of local authority adult education provision is understood, resourced and recognised in proposals to reform the Further Education system.
  • The Department for Education is proposing to merge the Community Learning and National Skills Fund. In the recent Funding and Accountability consultation, we recommended that the two funds should not be merged. If they are, funding for Community Learning should be ringfenced to ensure this provision is protected.

Contact
Megan Edwards, Public Affairs and Campaigns Advisor
megan.edwards@local.gov.uk