‘We need to stop people falling through the cracks’, warns NIACE Chief

3 July 2013

Providers will need to work together and in partnership with employers and Local Enterprise Partnerships, to ensure that learners will not ‘fall through the cracks’, said NIACE Chief Executive, David Hughes at a recent NIACE seminar, on the impact of the Spending Review.

While six of NIACE’s policy asks, made ahead of last week’s announcements, had been met by government – including the retention of the community learning budget, ‘real terms’ maintenance of apprenticeship spending and the decision not to extend advanced learning loans – the seminar heard that a coherent, system-wide approach would be needed to protect the most vulnerable learners and to ensure a consistent offer across the country.

Partnerships are critical to the future of the learning and skills system, said David Hughes, particularly with employers, LEPs, public health services and business bodies – such as the Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors – to build greater system-wide coherence and to ensure that learner-demand counts just as much as employer-demand.

Overall, delegates agreed that while the 6% cut to the BIS departmental budget had been ‘not as bad as expected’, the picture remains, in some respects, a troubling one.

David Hughes warned of, ‘the real danger that we will lose all sorts of colleagues, all sorts of organisations, all sorts of provision and all sorts of learners, who could fall through the cracks’ as a result of the additional £260 million cut in 2015 to FE ‘spending on adult skills’, as providers are forced to prioritise provision.

Tom Wilson, Director of unionlearn, said:

“We have to find new ways of getting employers taking seriously not only the training of their own workforce, but training people in their communities and those workers who don’t ordinarily get any training. We need much more imaginative ways of getting employers to put their hands in their pockets to fund things.”

The seminar also heard that ‘rigidity’ in government funding mechanisms was creating a barrier to greater flexibility in the system, while NIACE’s Principal Policy and Advocacy Officer, Alastair Thomson, raised concerns about the seven-day wait for new benefit claimants – reported to be funding the ‘mandated’ requirement for ESOL classes for benefit claimants with ‘poorly spoken English’ – particularly its impact on those in unstable employment.