Great progress but the real work starts now

8 October 2014

We leave the Lib Dem Conference in Glasgow with renewed vigour, as the curtain falls on the 2014 Party Conference season.

Overall, it’s been a positive week, with great evidence that NIACE’s Manifesto is gaining good traction in emerging Lib Dem policy. It was pleasing to see adult education so prominent within Vince Cable’s speech on Monday, where he highlighted his desire to “see a big expansion of community adult education”. On Tuesday , we saw delegates vote to support the measures within the Lib Dem pre-manifesto, which incorporates the calls in NIACE’s Manifesto’s for a cross-party Commission on skills needs (positively, the Lib Dems want this to be a Royal Commission), our policy on learning accounts, and an important over-arching commitment to support lifelong learning for all. Also on Tuesday, delegates voted in support of the Lib Dem’s new policy document – Age Ready Britain – which stated a firm commitment to work with NIACE to roll out and promote mid-life career reviews, following our successful pilots with Government.

We’ve worked hard over the past three weeks to directly promote our Manifesto to those influential politicians who will likely have a clear bearing on the employment and skills agenda in the run up to the General Election, and beyond.

Whilst it would be wrong to claim universal support for all of NIACE’s policy proposals from all the politicians/advisors we’ve met, what we’ve seen is a good general support for our Manifesto, and a good understanding of the need to do more to unlock the talents of all if we’re to sustain and further grow the economy. There is a clear shared consensus across the parties that we need more apprenticeships, that youth unemployment must be tackled, that growth in higher education must be secured, and that our poor levels of literacy and numeracy needs to be improved.

Despite this progress, we cannot afford to be complacent. Whilst party manifestos are still being drafted, we’re in a good position to make a final push to gain further traction for our Manifesto before the ink is dry.

A remaining challenge is the need to gain cross party agreement for a new organisational settlement which can enable delivery of a skills system which can meet the challenges of the 21st Century. The centrepiece of our Manifesto is a call for an overarching vision for lifelong learning, which unites education at all ages and at all stages of life. As well as a call for the creation of a single UK Government department responsible for education, skills and work, bringing together schooling, further and higher education within one department of state along with the welfare to work policies of the Department for Work and Pensions. We believe this should be underpinned by new localism which integrates skills with economic growth strategies and provides leadership through LEPs and combined authorities. Whilst we have seen a growing appetite for devolution of skills policy and budgets from all parties, we are yet to gain universal agreement of the need for central Government reform. We are also keen to see a much greater focus from all the parties for reform focused on individual outcomes which gives people much greater control of their own learning and which allows them to benefit from learning and skills development throughout their working lives.

The growing consensus for a Royal Commission to help set the long-term vision and policy for education and skills would go a long way to satisfying both these challenges as well as galvanising cross-party support. We will be redoubling our efforts to promote this across the political spectrum and our other Manifesto policy proposals as each of the Parties begin to finalise their policy positions in advance of the General Election. In many ways the real work starts now on the important mission to secure a skills system fit for the 21st Century which supports a truly lifelong learning culture.



Alastair Thomson

October 20th, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Gettingt warmer endorsement from LibDems for lifelong learning is effort not wasted. However they’re polling at 7% and UKIP at 18%.

Look forward to reading how NIACE seeks to engage with UKIP’s post-school/non-university policy. And does so robustly while receiving EU funding to promote lifelong learning.