The Government’s approach to give local Employer Representative Bodies a lead role in articulating their skills need in Local Skills Improvement Plans is a step in the right direction. However, the wide-ranging role of local government – councils and MCAs/GLA – in supporting this process is missing from the Act and statutory guidance.
About the LGA
The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically led, cross-party membership organisation. Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, raise national awareness of its work, and support it to deliver local solutions to national problems.
The LGA has long called for a Work Local place-based approach to employment and skills provision to bring together well-intended but disconnected policies and programmes so they become greater than the sum of their parts, and are planned and delivered in a way which meets the needs of local residents, employers and communities. A strong and cohesive employer voice that captures the current and future skills demands of all employers within a local area is inherent to our proposals. Local government is already working with employers and providers across a local area to achieve this. We urge the Government to put measures in place to achieve this as cost-of-living pressures affect people, places and employers.
The Government’s approach to give local Employer Representative Bodies (ERBs) a lead role in articulating their skills need in Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) is a step in the right direction. However, the wide-ranging role of local government – councils and MCAs/GLA – in supporting this process is missing from the Act and statutory guidance.
We want ERBs to work well locally and for LSIPs to improve outcomes, so are committed to discussing with Whitehall and partners how local government, with adequate funding, can have a clear role supporting ERBs and further education (FE) providers.
Comments related to the statutory guidance
The role of local government
While legislation and statutory guidance now acknowledge the role of MCAs/GLA in shaping the FE offer in devolved areas, they do not reflect the role they could play in developing LSIPs, and neither is there reference to the Levelling Up White Paper commitment to wider and deeper devolution. Outside of devolution areas, councils’ role is almost entirely omitted. In practice though, trailblazers showed local government and ERBs working together on LSIPs so it is disappointing DfE has not reflected the reality of what local partners know is needed on the ground.
For the reforms to be effective, LSIPs need to be implemented as part of a wider, integrated, place-based employment and skills approach. Maximum alignment between the work of ERBs’ LSIPs and local government is needed.
Local government’s added value in getting the skills and jobs offer right locally
As democratic leaders of place and trusted convenors of partners, local government – councils and MCAs/GLA – has the democratic legitimacy, accountability and wide-ranging functions and expertise to get the skills and employment offer right for their residents, communities, businesses and other employers. It should be a core, strategic partner allowing it to work alongside and support ERBs and FE providers to develop and enhance LSIPs through:
The above functions are vital to the successful development and implementation of LSIPs and we remain committed to discussing how local government’s expertise is factored in.
The role of providers
The guidance lists providers who are in scope of the LSIP. This does not include council-run adult and community learning (ACL) which are AEB grant funded. ERBs need to be aware of this vital provision and other smaller and more specialist providers in an area. If different providers are subject to different skills plans, it risks further fragmenting the skills system, skewing an area’s balance of provision, disrupting the ‘skills escalator’, and leading to a lack of progression pathways for learners.
Developing LSIP priorities
ERBs’ articulation of employer skills demand within three year LSIPs is an important step, but to be effective, need to be delivered. Oversight of what is being delivered or commissioned and by whom is therefore important to determining what action is needed. Ensuring MCAs/GLA and constituent councils in devolved areas and councils in non-devolved areas are involved in these discussions is critical. Outside devolution areas, guidance suggests ERBs will be supported via LEPs but it should go further to set out how LEPs will engage councils to shape LSIP priorities.
It also suggests provider Accountability Agreements will help meet these priorities, but we note that these are still subject to the current Funding and Accountability consultation.
Embedding pathways and inclusion in to LSIPs
LSIP priorities will rightly differ from place to place. Statutory guidance says that LSIPs will not attempt to cover the entirety of provision within an area. If for example, an LSIP solely focused on the need for higher level technical skills in an area, it is not clear if or how progression for learners with lower qualifications will be identified, funded and coordinated.
A mixed and balanced skills funding offer, which invests in community skills, basic and functional skills, technical skills, and higher-level skills, is essential to addressing inequalities and supporting those with the fewest qualifications. Training that helps people progress from community-based, pre-entry level learning through to Level 2 is urgently needed and should be factored into local plans so it can be coordinated with LSIP priorities.
Local government has a key role here. As stated above MCAs/GLA lead AEB provision, so are well placed to do this join up in devolved areas. In non-devolved areas, no single authority has the strategic role to plan adult education at Level 2 and below. Councils should be empowered to do this via a new ‘Community Skills Lead’ role. This will allow all ERBs to work with local government to coordinate provision and build learner pathways.
Approval and oversight
Statutory guidance sets out that the Secretary of State (SoS) will approve all Plans, and that MCAs/GLA will be invited to provide a statement about their involvement in LSIPs. In non-devolved areas, there is no opportunity to ‘sense check’ skills plans, raise any issues before plans are submitted, and no local democratic oversight for the outcomes or public funding. Councils in non-devolved areas and MCAs/GLA in devolved areas must have an opportunity to sense check LSIPs so they work for local areas, add value and join-up with other local strategies before SoS approval and enabling the SoS to focus on national issues. Cross cutting local ESBs (or similar) can support this process.
We believe LSIPs should be delivered as part of our wider place-based Work Local proposals which provide a mechanism to get the skills and employment offer right for places. Analysis suggests Work Local could each year result in a 15 per cent increase in the number of people improving their skills or finding work, delivering benefits to residents, employers, the health and wellbeing of communities while reducing costs to the public purse. It must be an essential element of the Government’s Levelling Up, devolution and skills and employment reforms and we are keen to progress this with Government and partners.