What’s in the Labour manifesto for learning, skills and employment?

13 April 2015

“We believe that Britain only succeeds when working families succeed. As the economy at last recovers, people want the opportunity to use their skills and talents to make a better life for themselves and their children. Our country’s greatest asset is the hard work and talent of our people.” Ed Miliband

With a statement like that in the Labour Leader’s foreword to their manifesto I did think there would be many commitments which support the NIACE view of the world. And, in many respects, I was not disappointed. At both the macro level and in many detailed proposals, it is clear that the Labour Party has been listening, analysing and thinking hard about what it will do if it comes into power next month.

The manifesto reads, as others have suggested, much more like an Autumn Statement than a traditional manifesto, and it is probably better for it. So, for instance, there is a strong over-arching theme of taking a long-term view of investment in order to build a stronger and fairer economy supported by many detailed proposals.

It is in the detailed proposals that NIACE can find useful hooks, should Labour get into power. There are lots of them I like, such as a commitment to reduce the proportion of citizens unable to use the internet. Likewise, there is a strong focus on the 5 million people on low pay by forming new partnerships between employers and employees to improve business performance and job quality. Both of these are issues NIACE has been campaigning in recent months.

Inevitably, there is more on supporting the learning, skills and employment of young people than support for people in work to improve their productivity. But it is worth recognising that the manifesto does helpfully start to re-design the 18-24 year old ‘phase’ of development. More support, better options, apprenticeships which are about progression to higher level jobs and learning, a new Youth Allowance to even the playing field, Institutes of Technical Excellence and so on. All of these are about the long term investment our society should make to help every young person become a confident lifelong learner.

Just as inevitably, for me, there are a number of missed opportunities. The welcome prioritisation of mental health and joining up of aged care and health miss the contribution lifelong learning makes to supporting recovery, resilience, active living and better health. But to get that right requires the sort of cross-Government department thinking that has evaded so many administrations for so long.

Perhaps the cross-silo thinking I would like to see will come about with the strong push for devolution in England and the reinforcement of devolved powers to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? I’m excited, for instance, at the commitment to commission a new Work Programme at local level, allowing for more joining up of employment and skills and greater sensitivity to the local labour market.

Like others we will be reading this carefully, along with the other manifestos, and looking for the areas where we will be able to support the new Government. We’ll be launching, shortly, our own set of proposed actions for the next Government to put into place in its first 100 days. Keep an eye out for it.