Devolve skills funding to drive growth

13 December 2013

Column originally published in the Local Government Chronicle on 29 November 2013.

In October 2013 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published a major international survey as part of its Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.

As councils and local enterprise partnerships draft growth strategies for the new 2014 deadlines, PIAAC offered an analysis of literacy, numeracy and technology skills in 24 countries.

The results did not make great reading. There were some positives – England’s effectiveness in activating highly skilled adults and positive associations between higher literacy and health, volunteering and political involvement – but many areas were deeply concerning.

We have a large proportion of adults who have low levels of numeracy skills, our pool of highly skilled adults is likely to shrink, and low skills impact negatively on social inequalities.

At the time we issued a strong response underlining our concerns about the serious inequalities in skills training that prevent too many people from reskilling and learning. Providing low-skilled adults with more secondchance opportunities to learn is critical for our economy.

Around the same time, local government’s Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport issued its 2013-14 ‘prospectus for growth’.

Representing the views of many of us advising members and LEPs, ADEPT makes important calls relating to transport, housing, infrastructure, and LEPs themselves, but makes little noticeable mention of skills.

Our experience in the field shows that councillors, chief executives and employers are deeply concerned about supply and demand in the skills system. Biases in funding regimes necessarily prioritise younger Neets but in doing so exacerbate adult disadvantage in local labour markets.

Employer demand requires an all-ages approach to skills and radical devolution of funding to LEPs and local government to support this strategy. This is something that is well reflected in recent city deals including Sheffield’s ‘skills made easy’ programme focusing on apprenticeships and adult skills interventions.

In a major initiative this autumn, NIACE is working with the UK Commission on Employment and Skills on a free series of improvement events focusing on better use of labour market intelligence in local skills strategies, and the strategic issues facing LEPs in overseeing these.

The first events, in Birmingham, London and York, will feature local government and LEP input on an issue central to growth.

I look forward to seeing as many readers of this column as possible there – and I hope a few ADEPT members too.