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A new report calls for local authorities to be given greater control over adult skills provision. The New Local Government Network proposes a new, simplified and more streamlined skills model, in which the regional tier is rationalised and more funding and control moves from Whitehall to local councils.
Licence to Skill: Streamlining the skills system by devolving skills to local authorities argues that local authorities should be able to choose for themselves how best to aggregate their skills commissioning strength sub-regionally, principally through the new Multi-Area Agreements.
The UK facing a major challenge to improve its skills base. In 2006, a Treasury study led by Lord Leitch found that not only does the UK face a greater skills shortage than most EU countries, but that disparities between local areas within the UK are significantly larger than the European average. As part of reforms to skills policy in the UK, the Government will devolve funding and responsibility for 16-19 year olds to local authorities.
Whilst the report welcomes this devolutionary drive and recognises that it represents an important step forwards, it argues that skills provision is still too complex and involves too many sub-national agencies. As part of streamlining this process, both 14-19 FE College commissioning and 16-19 capital funding should be devolved to local authorities.
The report also argues:
It is unreasonable and ineffective to give local authorities new statutory duties to ensure participation up to 19 and to ensure quality of provision and yet to give someone else the funding and powers that will be vital in delivering these statutory duties.
If the Government wants to create a unified, integrated and locally responsive 14-19 education and skills phase then responsibilities should fall to local authorities, rather than some responsibilities falling to local authorities and others being given to new regional skills agencies.
The Government should go further and 19+ skills should also be devolved to local authorities so that the skills system is better joined-up.
The current education and skills system and the model that officials have planned is too crowded and complex and needs to be simplified and streamlined. It seems inconsistent with the broader ambitions stated by Ministers to de-clutter and decentralise the skills system.
Author of the report, Nick Hope, argues:
“Power and funding should be devolved to local authorities to create a more unified, integrated and locally responsive education and skills system that better serve employers and learners. But, the reasons that power should be devolved from the regional tier go far beyond this. At the regional level RDAs already show leadership in careful partnerships with councils. Additional regional bodies would lack the legitimacy and accountability provided by the democratic mandate of local government. This democratic mandate gives local government the authority to take difficult decisions and to take a strong leadership role”.
“A more co-ordinated and joined-up approach, with clear leadership and direction, will facilitate more effective and efficient structures. In addition to better integrating the different elements of the education and skills system, local authorities will be able to adopt a wider strategic approach to policy and delivery. Place-shaping requires local government to take a holistic view”.
“Rather than operating at fixed, artificial and imposed boundaries, local authorities can work together in partnership. This bottom-up approach allows local authorities to be more responsive and adaptable to the geography at which the skills shortages exist and where solutions can be found. The organic formation of collaborative arrangements between local authorities, such as through MAAs, will allow them to integrate their education and skills strategy far better with their economic strategy at the most appropriate spatial level”.