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What does the Labour Manifesto mean for Lifelong Learning in the UK?

Labour’s manifesto today is brimming with ambition for improving skills development, education and training, but light on detail. We particularly welcome the commitment to “a comprehensive strategy for post-16 education”, as there is growing consensus amongst FE and HE sector bodies that we need a whole-system approach to change, rather than piecemeal initiatives. 

 

People

 

It’s good to see a firm commitment to recruiting 6,500 new teachers, especially in shortage subjects, though we hope that this will also include college lecturers, where recruitment and retention challenges are holding back the delivery of technical education. The idea of linking Skills England to the Migration Advisory Committee is also very promising, as it will hopefully provide much greater clarity and direction on skills training priorities in different occupational sectors. We can’t help being disappointed, however, at the conspicuous lack of reference to “lifelong learning’ and the complete absence of any mention of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement, which leaves us wondering how far a Labour government would support this major change. 

 

Productivity

 

The Manifesto outlines plans to reform the Apprenticeships Levy into a flexible Growth and Skills Levy, which we support in principle. The detail behind this will be important, to ensure a good balance between apprenticeships and other forms of training, and make sure the levy is fully utilised in future. The LEI manifesto calls for the Apprenticeship Levy to become a lifelong learning levy, which would be split 50/50 between apprenticeships and other work-based courses. 

 

We broadly support Labour’s call to establish Skills England to bring together businesses, training providers, unions, and government bodies, and better align training with market needs. But this must not be allowed to add another layer of bureaucracy to the post-16 education system, and we would hope it will be accompanied by a rationalisation of the many regulatory bodies already in existence. We also strongly believe that if it is to work it needs to include a strong regional focus. We call for the creation of regional Skills Observatories to identify skills gaps and skills matching opportunities within regional Skills Improvement Plans areas. 

 

From an HE perspective, we welcome the acknowledgment that universities are facing a funding crisis, and the commitment to “create a secure future for higher education”, but the absence of any specific proposals is an obvious gap. We hope this will be an urgent priority for a new government, as immediate measures are needed to address this crucial issue. 

 

Place

 

The flagship proposal to improve place-based skills training is the commitment to transform Further Education colleges into Technical Excellence Colleges, which would have a remit to work with employers, unions and local government to tackle the skills needs of local economies. Once again, we welcome this, although there are many questions over how it would work. Would all FE colleges be eligible to become a Technical Excellence College? Through what mechanism? And where would this leave the existing network of Institutes of Technology? 

 

We are also supportive of Labour’s plans to deepen devolution for existing Combined Authorities in England - including devolution of the Adult Education Budget - and extend it to more areas The proposals for local areas to develop employment plans for disabled people and those with health conditions, and to devolve funding to create integrated work, health, and skills programmes tailored to community needs are also very welcome, although these will need to be fully coordinated with existing provision for vulnerable adults delivered by colleges and others. 

 

However, the proposals to bring Jobcentre Plus and the National Careers Service together, although a positive step, won’t help working adults outside the benefits system. The LEI would urge Labour to build a world class careers service that can help those already in the workforce to navigate a path to reskilling and upskilling. 

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