Experiences of employment and skills devolution: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority

The combined authority believes that devolution has increased its influencing power and that it is more involved in decisions at an earlier stage. As a result, other national bodies, such as the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), are now in discussions with the combined authority about how to devolve funding to meet its specific skills needs.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is comprised of seven local authorities: Cambridge City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, East Cambridgeshire District Council, Fenland District Council, Huntingdonshire District Council, Peterborough City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council. It has a population of approximately 850,000 people. In 2017, the Combined Authority merged with the LEP, which covers a wider geographic area. There is also a Department for Education Opportunity Area (OA) in Fenland and East Cambridgeshire.

It is a combined authority with predominantly small and medium employers; 98 per cent of trading businesses employ fewer than 50 people. However, there are a number of large employers, particularly clustered around Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The region is host to a number of priority sectors which include life science, advanced manufacturing, construction, agritech, logistics, food, and digital industries.

The combined uthority covers three distinct economies. Broadly speaking, Greater Cambridge has the highest levels of skills and the best educational outcomes; Greater Peterborough and the surrounding area experiences lower levels of employment and greater economic inactivity and the Fens have lower labour market performance, related to the accessibility of both jobs and training. The combined authority has a higher employment rate than England (78% compared to 75%), and a lower unemployment rate (2.2% compared to 3.5%). However, Peterborough’s rate of unemployment of 4.7% is over double that of Cambridge at 2.2%. A higher proportion of jobs across the combined authority are insecure than the national figure (5.9% compared to 4.9%), which may be due to the seasonal nature of tourism and leisure-based businesses.

The combined authority’s Skills Advisory Panel identified a number of skills gaps, and has focused on tackling these aiming to overcome barriers to progression and job switching.


The devolved £11.5 million Adult Education Budget is the combined authority’s largest single example of skills devolution, and some of the lessons learned from this experience are captured in the final section of this case study. The combined authority has also begun desiging a pilot, using OA funding, to guarantee job interviews for school leavers.

The combined authority commissioned independent reports on the skills and economy of the region to focus activity. It argues the focus should be ‘training that supports the economy’ and, following a review, has reduced some community learning programmes that were not directly connected to job outcomes or progression. Some impacted providers felt that a broader range of motivations for learning, including community engagement, health and wellbeing, should have been considered. The combined authority maintains dialogue with these providers. The health and care sector was identified for an innovation pilot to address the skills shortages found within it, and devolution provided an opportunity to shape programmes to meet the region’s needs.

This case study focusses on two pilot programmes resulting from devolution, the Health and Care Work Academy and the National Retraining Scheme Pilot.

Policy changes

Health and Care Work Academy

The combined authority successfully bid for a £5.2m DWP-funded Health and Care Work Academy programme. It is a three year programme, which will support 2100 clients at an average cost of £2,482 per client. The design stage with DWP was collaborative and facilitated through a series of roundtable events for employers and providers. This led to a programme co-designed between partners at an early stage.

The Health and Care Work Academy is delivered in partnership with a local college. Jobcentre Plus is a key partner, including providing referrals. The Academy aims to improve low retention and progression rates in the care sector, alongside attracting new people into roles. Those coming from outside the sector include those in low paid, insecure jobs with limited progression routes, and unemployed people. Those within the sector are helped to progress further, with clearer pathways created.

The Academy was operational within a month of getting the green light. The initial entry criteria were based on benefit claim, but the Combined Authority team found that people in low paid work in receipt of Universal Credit (UC) did not want to publicly identify as benefit claimants and were less likely to take up opportunities at the Academy. Its lead responsibility allowed the Combined Authority to adjust eligibility criteria, opening the Academy to all those with qualifications below Level 2: “You wouldn't ordinarily be able to do that with a generic programme that's got a criteria that you have to stay within the confines of. So, that's been really helpful." The combined authority argues its local leadership allowed it to adjust more rapidly to local need.

National changes to the apprenticeship system led to fewer apprentices than expected. Under the new model they are offering more lower level training, up to Level 2 and 3 qualifications, with a clear focus on unemployed people, those on low incomes, and those already working within the sector. Since 2018, 567 learners have joined the programme, and 107 people, who were not previously working in the sector have found work within it.

National Retraining Scheme (NRS)

The combined authority has received funding to run a pilot of the National Retraining Scheme (NRS), testing new ways of engaging adults who are in work to retrain in order to gain access to better jobs, and prepare for changes that may occur in the economy. The aim is to demonstrate a scalable and sustainable model. This can help inform the rollout of the NRS and other investments, such as the £600m per year National Skills Fund, as well as make the case for further devolution.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is at an early stage of identifying priority sectors for the pilot. As the programme will be delivered digitally, the combined authority is identifying ways to ensure that those who need support to retrain are not excluded as a result of digital literacy barriers.

Devolution has afforded the combined authority more involvement during the design phase of the pilot. It has worked in partnership with DfE and local businesses including BT Group and Google Garage. It believes that this helps to ensure local ‘flavour’ in the pilot and encourage greater and wider participation.

Lessons learned

Devolution can help to increase wider influence

The combined authority believes that devolution has increased its influencing power and that it is more involved in decisions at an earlier stage. As a result, other national bodies, such as the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), are now in discussions with the combined authority about how to devolve funding to meet its specific skills needs. There is an increased sense of partnership with government.

Need to consider how national and local programmes and policy interact

Ideas facilitated through devolved budgets can be heavily impacted by new or existing government policy. The funding reduction faced by colleges since 2010, along with other policy changes, has impacted on the further education sector. The Health and Social Care Work Academy had to adjust as a result of the impact of changes in apprenticeship policy.

Need to start with good understanding of local provision

Success in using new funds requires clear awareness of existing local activity, to avoid duplication of existing programmes. For example, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough initially identified issues with potential duplication of AEB provision and ESF programmes. It has now applied for ESF funding to support development of a Skills Talent Apprenticeship and Recruitment Hub, to ensure all provision is mapped and in one place (ESF, AEB, T Levels, Colleges - apprenticeship offers) as well as providing a digital platform and talent portal.

Local knowledge is critical in designing programmes to support residents

It is important to reflect differences in local need in programme design and delivery. This includes tailoring and linking local support, for example to tackle low digital skills or limited internet access which might create barriers to ‘digital by default’ models. Similarly, local knowledge and learning allowed eligibility criteria for the Health and Care Work Academy to be made more inclusive of all those that could benefit from it.