Lincolnshire County Council: creating strategic alliances for employment and skills challenges

Lincolnshire County Council are faced with the challenge of working across a large and dispersed county. By creating strategic alliances, they have developed provision that enables them to meet their skills and employment challenges. This case study examines the current system, and what is needed to improve outcomes for the local community.

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About Lincolnshire County Council

Lincolnshire has a two-tier system of local government, with Lincolnshire County Council working with seven district councils. There are also two neighbouring unitary councils, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire, which the county council increasingly works with. It is a large and dispersed county with larger settlements, market towns and rural villages. The strongest employment sectors are food production, manufacturing and tourism.

Vision for the local area

Employment and skills support at Lincolnshire County Council sits within economic development. In a usual year the team would commission out about 800 vocational training places and 6,000 adult learning places. The employment and skills agenda features strongly in the county council’s corporate plan objectives.

Justin Brown, Assistant Director for Growth, said there has been some recalibration of the service in recent years:

“Our aims and objectives are around creating strategic alliances which enable us to overcome the challenges of skills and employment in the county. But we will act where there is a gap, for example with adult learning or our skills programmes.”

Work the council is currently undertaking

Lincolnshire has an employment and skills commissioning board which brings together the county council, LEP, Federation of Lincolnshire Colleges and DWP. For the past year the board has been working to identify a refreshed set of priorities and is now moving into the delivery phase. These priorities are:

  • careers guidance
  • graduate retention (keeping the brightest talent in the county)
  • apprenticeships
  • a strategic partnership with colleges to define the needs of their capital estate and look at how these needs can be met
  • a transition towards a co-commissioning model with DWP and other stakeholders.

Unemployment tends to be very low here, but Lincolnshire does have higher-than-average long-term unemployment among under-25s, and a relatively high number of people who can’t work due to illness – some of which is tied to health inequality and social deprivation.

Rurality and access can be a barrier to work. Childcare, for example, can be difficult to afford or access for the residents of smaller towns and villages if they are not on a professional salary. There are also hard-to-fill vacancies exacerbated by COVID-19 and national skills shortages.

Opportunities, barriers and potential solutions

Justin Brown said one of the county council’s strengths is its size – as a half-billion pound organisation it has a certain amount of muscle that can be exercised on behalf of, for example, FE colleges:

“I think there is something really important about the advocacy that local government can bring.”

Aligned to that is the council’s local knowledge and oversight.

“We are constantly working out how we can afford something, doing demand analysis, looking at our locations, building up a picture of where we need to invest – either to take advantage of opportunity or tackle a problem. It’s our second nature. When councils advocate for investment in capital, or are looking at ways of co-commissioning, they have a richness of knowledge driven by data, which is really valuable,” explained Justin.

Applying this knowledge-led approach, for example when looking at the issues around transport to further education or the barriers to employment faced by carers, can have an impact on provision of skills and employment support and change lives.

One major frustration in the system is lack of opportunity for dialogue with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Department for Education (DfE) and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).

“In my job I am responsible for enabling and supporting huge developments, helping 2,000 business a year, delivering 800 jobs a year, providing training for 6,000 adults a year – but they do not routinely speak with me. We need an empowered dialogue with DfE and DWP. The approach should be: let’s all agree what the questions are for this locality, then let’s collectively work out how to solve them.

“Local government should have a strong and formal role in the governance of skills and employment, but governance is largely irrelevant if it does not include the ability to adapt quickly. Take the current example of HGV drivers: we can't actually do anything, because firstly there is a complete supply-side failure precipitated by factors that we cannot control; and secondly, when we try to do anything to accelerate training and testing, we are told that nothing can be done under the current frameworks. 

“One thing local government does better than anyone else is turn provision on and off, taking difficult decisions but doing so under a clear mandate. This ability to make rapid changes, without having to ask others' permission, is a strength that only local government has,” said Justin.

Lincolnshire’s business growth hub receives £250,000 in government funding each year and the council turns that into £1.8 million through match funding and grants – another example of the added value that councils can provide. Justin said: “This is the time for us to push government firmly on the point that different localities have different requirements. Local government’s place-making responsibilities mean that we can bring strategies together, but we need the power to bring training provision and funding into that strategic mix.”

The local perspective

One example where the council was able to help was with a coach company in the rural east of the county which was struggling for staff. Between the council’s business growth hub and public transport department, support was provided, notably in attracting two apprentice mechanics (vehicle mechanics are a known skill shortage in the area) plus two administrative assistants who were recruited via the ‘Kickstart’ programme, which the coach company was introduced to by the business growth hub.

The coach company has also become part of the board which has shaped and set the local bus service improvement plan, and has received advice on better marketing and on business resilience in recent months. The company sees its relationship with the business growth hub adviser as critical to its growth.


Justin Brown, Assistant Director for Growth - [email protected]  

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