Could a new localism lead to the creativity and innovation needed in our sector?6 November 2014
For a while I thought that the devolution debate, which flared up around the time of the referendum in Scotland, would sneak into the background. And then the Chancellor announced that Greater Manchester was set for significant new responsibilities and budgets, including some more control over skills spending. Whatever the rights and wrongs, and politics, of the requirement for Greater Manchester to have an elected Mayor, this was an important signal about the landscape in the next few years.
It is very clear that a new localism, as we called for in our general election manifesto in June, will be high up on the agenda for the next Government, whatever the make-up. In part this is because of a genuine shift in thinking about how best to run the country. I am sure though that it is also about how to drive change when there is no new money to spend. For NIACE and those interested in lifelong learning there are many opportunities, as well as the obvious worries.
Our position set out in our new 2015 Localism Prospectus is simple – we want local areas to develop the social partnerships between employers, public bodies, people and communities which can set out long term plans for employment and skills, leading to sustainable and inclusive economic growth. This will, if done well, lead to stronger and more vibrant and tolerant communities, as well as more people able to learn throughout their lives.
In our work with Local Enterprise Partnerships, local and combined authorities and all of the main political parties we are advocating simple, practical and effective ways of working at the local level. We want to see more action on literacy, numeracy and digital skills; a new approach to ESOL; vibrant Community Learning Trusts; integrated employment and skills; a focus on progression for people from low pay into better jobs; more support for people in work to understand their options and access new skills, traineeships and apprenticeships, which help people carve out genuine careers; and a concerted effort to develop an effective and accessible ladder of learning opportunities from level 2 through levels 3, 4, 5 up to postgraduate study. A new localism can help make this happen alongside our priority actions we set out in our manifesto.
Maybe the new localism will provide the space for creativity and innovation we need to overcome the pessimism which continual funding cuts have inculcated in our sector?