Skills and Post-16 Education Bill , Committee Stage, House of Lords, 6 July 2021

The LGA supports a local, employer-led approach to develop Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). To enhance this, Mayoral Combined Authorities and local authorities should be core and strategic partners in the LSIP process. Their wide-ranging expertise on this agenda and local knowledge is missing from the Bill, and we hope this is redressed during its passage through Parliament.


Key messages

  • As furlough ends, nearly all communities will be affected by unemployment. It is vitally important that a joined up, place-based employment, skills and careers system offers adults and young people the recovery they deserve by providing access to quality education and training opportunities.
  • Local government – local authorities (LAs) and mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) - have an important role in making the skills and employment system work for their area and provide strong local strategic and democratic oversight. Local authorities have direct functions to plan post-16 skills, support young people with specific needs and deliver adult and community learning and other related functions. Mayoral combined authorities (MCAs) have devolved responsibility for the Adult Education Budget (AEB), which they have used to reshape the local further education offer, working with employers, FE providers and constituent local authorities. 
  • The LGA supports a local, employer-led approach to develop Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs). To enhance this, Mayoral Combined Authorities and local authorities should be core and strategic partners in the LSIP process. Their wide-ranging expertise on this agenda and local knowledge is missing from the Bill, and we hope this is redressed during its passage through Parliament. 
  • Important aspects of the LSIPs are yet to be defined. Before LSIPs are rolled-out, the Secretary of State should introduce statutory guidance for their implementation in consultation with local authorities and Mayoral Combined Authorities. 
  • The Bill’s provision to broaden opportunities for adults to access higher technical level skills are welcome. However, there are too many adults not yet qualified to Level 2 (equivalent to GCSE) who are unable to access this offer. These groups are most at risk of being out of work so increasing their skills is crucial to improve their chances in the job-market.
  • Local authorities’ adult and community education provision is the bedrock of adult learning, providing adults with opportunities to upskill and retrain, through the Adult Education Budget (AEB). To accelerate and expand opportunities for people to progress their skills at every level, the Adult Education Budget (AEB) should, as a minimum be restored to its 2010 levels (from £1.5 to £3 billion).
  • Good jobs and career opportunities where people live are central to the Government’s levelling up ambitions. Local and combined authorities are ambitious to do more to join up local provision to better meet the needs of communities and create local, integrated skills and employment offers tailored to the needs of local economies and residents. We will be working with government to ensure that the changes put forward in this Bill make use of local government’s expertise to deliver the best outcomes for every community.

Amendment statements

Local Skills Improvement Plans, Amendments 13, 16, 23, 28 and 36 tabled by Lord Watson of Invergowrie

  • Amendment 13 provides for employer representative bodies to work in partnership with local authorities, including MCAs, and further education providers.
  • Amendment 16 provides for employment representative bodies to draw on the views of regional and local authorities, including MCAs, with specific reference to published plans and strategies which have been developed by these authorities to inform the distribution of funding and prioritisation of resources. 
  • Amendment 23 provides for local authorities to give consent in the approval process of Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs).
  • Amendment 28 provides for local and combined authorities to be sufficiently consulted on the Government’s plans for the roll out of LSIPs and allow them to highlight any issues before the publication of any related LSIP guidance.
  • Amendment 36 provides for LSIPs to give due regard to relevant national and regional strategies. 

LGA View

  • The LGA supports amendments 13, 16, 23, 28 and 36. To enhance the employer-led approach local authorities and MCAs should be named as a core, strategic partner in the LSIP process to support effective partnership working and further integration of the skills and employment system in each spatial area.
  • We would also like to see local democratic accountability embedded into local skill improvement plans, with local authorities and MCAs consulted during the approval process for LSIPs in their area. 
  • Local authorities and MCAs have wide-ranging functions in the skills system and play a vital role in knitting together local and national interventions to make the skills and employment system work for their communities.
  • Effective partnership working between Employer Representative Bodies (ERBs), local authorities and MCAs will be essential to ensure that LSIPs join-up with other local and regional strategies, planning and provision, including local authorities and MCAs wide-ranging functions in the skills system. Integration at the local level will be vital to support the skills talent pipeline and join-up pathways of progression, to support those with the lowest skills to progress into higher technical qualifications.
  • Supporting adults to be work-and learning-ready must also sit alongside developing higher-level skills. Local government can help to strategically align LSIPs with other local services and support that enables people, particularly the lowest skilled and those furthest from the job market, to access training. This includes access to quality careers and employment advice, in addition to a range of other support such as health services; support for parents; childcare support; housing support and debt advice.
  • Before LSIPs are rolled out, we recommend that the Secretary of State develops statutory guidance for their implementation, based on the evaluation of the trailblazer pilots, in consultation with local authorities and MCAs. This will give local authorities and MCAs the opportunity to highlight any issues before publication of the guidance and the further roll-out of LSIPs.
  • The Government’s prospectus for Local Skills Improvement Plan Trailblazers sets out how an Employer Representative Body may wish to submit an application to lead an LSIP. As the spatial area and scope of each LSIP will be proposed and defined by bidders, LSIPs will likely be different in each area. 
  • Therefore, the Bill and guidance are not explicit about certain important features of the LSIP, namely what constitutes ‘local’, ‘a specified area’, nor how they will link with Skills Advisory Panels. While higher-level technical qualifications (Level 4 and 5) will fall under the remit of LSIPs, it remains unclear the extent to which they will also cover other lower-level qualification levels, including those that are technical.
  • If higher technical skills are to be the sole focus of LSIPs, providers will have a new legal obligation to meet the delivery of this training in a way that they do not currently have for other skills and qualifications at a lower level. We are concerned that this could skew the balance of provision within an area and disrupt the ‘skills escalator’ from lower to higher levels of training. Lower level skills provision, with pathways that allow people to progress from community-based, pre-entry level learning through to Level 3, act as a springboard to higher level qualifications and are equally important. Local Authorities and MCAs can help ensure LSIPs integrate and align with local skills provision at every level, so that all residents can access training and have local opportunities to progress.
  • To ensure join-up across the post-16 education system, it would also be prudent for local authority run adult learning provision to be referenced in the guidance for LSIPs, depending on the level of vocational qualifications within their remit.

Employer Representative Bodies, amendments 29 and 37 tabled by Lord Watson of Invergowrie, amendment 38 tabled by Lord Storey

  • Amendment 29 provides for local authorities to give consent in the designation of Employer Representative Bodies (ERBs). 
  • Amendments 37 and 38, seek to ensure that once ERBs are designated, they are required to meaningfully collaborate with local authorities and MCAs in their area.  

LGA view

  • We support amendment 29 which would require the Secretary of State to consult with MCAs and local authorities on the designation of ERBs. As local elected leaders of place, MCAs and local authorities have the local knowledge to ensure ERBs are representative of local the footprints they cover.
  • We also support amendments 37 and 38, which would introduce a requirement for ERBs to meaningfully engage with MCAs and local authorities within their designated area. ERBs should work with MCAs where they exist to match spatial footprints, and in areas not covered by devolution, ERBs and local authorities should work across functional economic areas, or a travel to work or learn pattern, to determine training and employment support provision.
  • This will allow for effective local partnership working between ERBs, local authorities and MCAs, to support a higher degree of integration across a spatial area. Failure to embed effective collaboration risks introducing additional complexity for employers, individuals and providers, and disrupting pathways of progression from lower to higher levels of learning. 

Local government’s role in post-16 skills and education

  • Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) have devolved responsibilities for over 50 per cent of England’s Adult Education Budget (AEB) and are responsible for the planning of adult education in their areas and a range of other related functions. MCAs should have a clear, distinct and lead role in the further education offer for their local area working with employers, providers, and constituent local authorities as they do now. 
  • Local authorities have the following wide-ranging direct and related functions that help connect the skills and employment system to local communities, which should be utilised to enhance the role of ERBs within a local area:
    • Deliver adult and community education to level 2 in a variety of community settings, and know how to identify, promote and incentivise residents with low qualifications to engage in further learning, who are least likely to seek it. 
    • Statutory duties, including to plan young people’s learning for their area, re-engage NEETs and support young people with SEND. 
    • Support young people and adults with complex barriers to be training or work ready through wide ranging services, including public health and its link into health services; support for parents through Family Information Services; childcare support; housing support and debt advice. 
    • Run their own devolved or discretionary employment and skills services, and work closely with national agencies and providers including Jobcentre Plus and National Careers Service. 
    • Connect, simplify and promote multiple national employment, training, skills and economic growth initiatives, including the current Plan for Jobs initiatives such as Kickstart, so they are greater than the sum of their parts, with a lead role in Levelling Up Fund, Community Renewal Fund and Shared Prosperity Fund. 
    • Economic development and inward investment functions allow them to work directly with existing and incoming businesses, representative bodies (chambers, federation of small businesses) and work closely with all further education providers and often support capital investments to improve the local Further Education estate. They are uniquely placed to understand current and future skills demand and supply.
    • Data analysis and planning: perform granular analysis of national data and generate their own data to ensure national / local provision is targeted and use this to develop and connect growth, inward investment, SME, employment and skills strategies and input to wider spatial strategies.
    • Through the pandemic, local authorities were trusted to coordinate employment, training and business support for their local area and establish redundancy / recovery taskforces, bringing together the suite of partners to make swift decisions.

Local authorities’ adult and community education provision

Local authority run adult and community education (ACE) plays a vital role in supporting adults on their journey to learn skills; to enter, return or progress in work, and support their personal, social, health needs. Without it, many of the 600,000 adults – including some of our hardest to reach, vulnerable or isolated residents – that access these services every year would not progress into further learning and work. ACE is successful because it works with the grain of other local services including employment, regeneration, education, health and culture, and adds value to each, as well as connecting with agencies like Jobcentre Plus. 

Ofsted judged 92 per cent of adult community learning (ACL) services as good or outstanding, making them the best performing part of the FE sector. The Education Committee in its report A plan for adult skills and lifelong learning singled out ACL as the cornerstone of adult learning, and recommended that it’s services are expanded in every community. Community adult education services are critical to the skills escalator and must be integral to a future joined up local provider base. 

Funding for adult skills mainly comes from the £1.5 billion annual Adult Education Budget (AEB), which provides support for those without Level 2 qualifications to improve their basic skills and gain essential qualifications. In MCAs areas where AEB is devolved, they have used funding innovatively to expand local training opportunities, fill in gaps in provision, and tailor their local offer to the needs of residents and their local economy. 

The overall AEB funding pot has reduced by 50 per cent over the last decade, which has coincided with a drop in learner numbers. AEB funding should as minimum, be restored to its 2010 levels and fully devolved to expand training opportunities and help people increase their skills, alongside the lifetime skills guarantee.

An upcoming adult education funding consultation may adversely affect councils’ adult education function. AEB, alongside the National Skills Fund, must be preserved to deliver existing first levels 2 and 3 guarantees and basic ICT qualifications, and provide “catch-up” opportunities for young people. AEB should also be used for Adult and Community Learning by providing basic skills including English language courses for speakers of other languages (ESOL).

Contact

Megan Edwards, Public Affairs Support Officer

megan.edwards@local.gov.uk