Capturing the moment on devolution

13 May 2015

NIACE has written to congratulate Greg Clark on his appointment as the Government’s new Communities Secretary. Moves toward greater local devolution will be at the very top of the incoming Minister’s agenda. Employment and skills are critical to unlocking local growth, and cities, LEPs and Local Authorities now need to urgently capture this important moment as the tide of localism has turned, to help make the employment and skills systems work better for employers and citizens.

We have identified five deliverable and fiscally neutral asks that we believe cities, LEPs and Local Authorities should now be building into their devolution plans, and NIACE is ready to help local areas develop programmes to make these asks a reality:

  1. Strategic role to shape demand for skills. There is a critical role for local areas in brokering supply and demand for skills together. This could include setting Local Enterprise Partnerships or other local arrangements on a statutory footing. It means working with employers to understand and raise their demand for skills, and with providers to deliver these needs in a flexible way. Cities and local areas should have a recognised role and that the SFA should have to demonstrate how it is taking local priorities into account.
  2. Devolution of employment programmes. People with multiple disadvantages need joined-up support from a range of services in order to find work and sustain employment. NIACE and strategic partner Inclusion have proposed a new, distinct employment programme for disabled people. Cities and local areas should put forward proposals for local design, commissioning and management of this programme, built on better aligning other existing funding streams including ESF.
  3. Increasing take-up and repayment of Learning Loans. Better careers and training support can help low paid workers to advance and earn more, and businesses to be more productive. It is essential for the success of both Learning Loans and Universal Credit. NIACE has called for a Career Advancement Service to give low paid workers a Career Coach and Personal Career Account. Cities and local areas should be asked to trial such a service, paid for through the Learning Loans budget and sharing the proceeds of higher take-up and repayment rates of these loans.
  4. Boosting the quality of Apprenticeships. The commitment to further increasing Apprenticeships is welcome, and local areas have played a key role in boosting numbers to date. But for Apprenticeships to benefit employers and individuals, they need to be of world-class quality. NIACE argues that an Apprentice Charter could help do this. Cities and local areas should develop and trial an Apprentice Charter in the sectors that are most important for them.
  5. Pathway to greater devolution. As local areas demonstrate they are able to deliver employment and skills services at least as well as central Government, there should be a clear and open expectation of further devolution. This should be formalised in a Local Labour Market agreement, setting out the pathway and milestones to further devolution.

David Hughes, NIACE Chief Executive, said:

“Together with our strategic partner, Inclusion, we have a wealth of experience and ideas of how to turn these asks into reality. We set out some of our thinking and offer to local areas earlier this year in our localism prospectus. There is a window in time for cities and local areas to win these increased responsibilities. We are keen to work with partners to do this, including by developing collaborative proposals for Whitehall with local areas.

“Ultimately the purpose of public services is to deliver better outcomes for citizens. Our systems of labour market support have delivered overall high rates of employment. But too many still miss out on the chance to work or the opportunity to do better. And too many businesses lack the skills they need to grow. Evidence-based devolution of employment and skills services can start to tackle this.”