Adult education a platform for local growth

13 February 2014

Column originally published in the Local Government Chronicle on 30 January 2014.

I was recently asked to speak at the North of England Education conference in Nottingham on putting localism, skills and further education at the heart of community regeneration.

This topic is nothing new. Such issues have been at the heart of local regeneration plans for as long as I have been in and around local government.

The challenge is now to expand and enhance these themes against a backdrop of unprecedented financial pressure, which hits the learning and skills system in the same way as it affects local government services.

The 2014-15 Skills Funding Agency statement for colleges is absurdly late this year, a delay that does not bode well for post-16 funding.

Imagine the outcry if the local government financial settlement had still not been received by mid-January?

This is coupled with further cuts proposed to budgets which extend access to education services and the failure of the 24+ loans system.

At NIACE we have been vocal at a national level on behalf of localities, about the likely impact of these changes on local economic regeneration. Our open letter to the deputy prime minister addressed the Whitehall stand-off that is adding to the malaise. It called for national recognition of the role of learning and skills in underwriting UK recovery.

Why does all of this matter to community economic regeneration?

Put simply, the “ladder of progression” in the skills system after the age of 16 is the fundamental “people” ingredient in local regeneration strategies.

Alongside physical regeneration, this is now required of local enterprise partnerships in their skills plans, and plans for using European Social Fund social exclusion resources.

The progression route from basic, entry level skills, all the way through to level 4/HE and beyond, and the accessibility of this to our most disadvantaged communities, must be central to these plans.

In my work at NIACE we are focusing on three strategic themes to underpin our lobbying activity on the financial plight of the learning and skills system.

Life skills focuses on getting the basics right in literacy, numeracy and digital media for all adults.

Learning in and for work focuses on employer partnerships and an employer-led skills system.

And family and community focuses on pre- and post-16 as our 2013 national inquiry into family learning across the UK demonstrated.

The key for local regeneration is to focus on the whole of the local labour market, not just those age groups seeking to enter it for the first time.

Tackling the national disgrace of those not in education, employment or training remains a top priority, but LEPs and employers know this requires an all ages approach.

This should combine strong strategic intent with real devolution of post-16 funding and an appreciation of the life course of adults in labour markets that experience the most pronounced social exclusion.

Getting this right and being vocal about it on the national stage, is one of the best opportunities we have for improving economic regeneration for all our communities.