Labour localism plans are not without risk

29 July 2014

Column originally published in the Local Government Chronicle on 16 July 2014.

This month saw the announcement of Labour’s growth review by Lord Adonis including key proposals on growth, learning and skills.

These included a headline commitment to devolve up to £30bn of Whitehall resources to new combined authorities; prominent mention of adult skills, apprenticeships and local enterprise partnerships’ role in planning provision and encouraging apprenticeship take-up; expanding the number of science, technology, engineering and maths apprenticeships and the number of university technical colleges; introducing a new “pot of money [for LEPs] to invest in economic development”; and developing plans for local revenue retention by combined authorities.

We now have a clear consensus between the three main parties on skills devolution, alongside an agenda for LEPs over the next parliament. The £30bn of Whitehall funds to be devolved adds another dimension to this debate.

In our recent general election manifesto for 2015, we called for a “new localism” on learning and skills, integrating growth strategies at a local level with leadership from LEPs and combined authorities. We continue to press the case with local government for localism and all-ages learning and skills to be central to growth strategies.

There are notes of caution on Adonis. Not every area has a combined authority, and it is important the push for these does not create another two-tier system with unequal patterns of devolution, which could create further barriers to adults accessing the learning and skills development they need. We also need to retain a national approach to skills augmentation locally, where the best partnerships have shown they are able to make a really positive impact.

What was also disappointing was the report’s lack of focus on skills training for people already in work. The challenge of the next decade is to fill a forecast 13.5 million job vacancies, against only seven million new young people entering the labour market. Adult skills and career transition support is now economically essential to filling this gap.

We are encouraging local government to continue to get behind the new NIACE manifesto so we can take a united front into the 2015 election campaign to continue to improve learning and skills opportunities for all adults.