The Machinery of Government proposals to axe the Learning and Skills Council and transfer £70 billion funding to local authorities has been given a mixed reaction.

The Machinery of Government proposals to axe the Learning and Skills Council and transfer £70 billion funding to local authorities has been given a mixed reaction.

The Association of Learning Providers says local authorities need to respond flexibly to Apprenticeship demand under the new skills system. They stress the need for a comprehensive implementation plan, to be drawn up to cover the next two years, based on a fully transparent mapping of existing provision so that independent providers, who deliver the majority of Train to Gain and Apprenticeships, can be visible to and recognised by local authorities, in the same way as schools and colleges.

Graham Hoyle, ALP’s chief executive, said: “The new arrangements will put local authorities firmly in control of commissioning all provision for 14-19 year olds, and ALP has already challenged ministers about the different approach needed to respond flexibly and quickly to changing employer demand for Apprentices. An annual funding allocation, which waits a year to reflect on any changes, just will not do, especially as we seek to drive up Apprenticeship numbers to meet the new 400,000 target.”

However ALP do say that they welcome the White Paper’s recognition of a possible single professional procurement agency serving the interests of several government departments (and possibly European and even lottery funds). The Association are also pleased that the paper cites the need to bring together employment and skills monies, something they have been arguing for over recent years.

The Association notes that all this is in the future, however, and for the time being providers will have to cope with the splitting up of the LSC funding regime. Providers will look towards the new Skills Funding Agency, concentrating on adult demand-led arrangements, but including within it the National Apprenticeship Service, which will also collect 16-18 Apprenticeship demand from the one hundred and fifty local authorities and, on their behalf, contract with providers.

ALP say they also welcome the indication that providers will be able to hold not only regional but also national contracts, alongside large employers, who will continue to have single contracts with the National Employers Service.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber, commenting on the changes said: "Many of the proposed reforms, such as giving local authorities a greater strategic role for young people, should help more employees get the skills they need. But with two in five workers still not getting any regular training at work, this organisational reform must not divert attention from the wider skills challenge - getting more employers to offer quality apprenticeships and training opportunities.

"The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has played an important role in supporting the Government's skills strategy in recent years. Ministers must ensure that the expertise built up by LSC staff is utilised in any future arrangements, without recourse to redundancies."

National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) claims the move calls into question the Government’s commitment to lifelong and lifewide learning.

Alan Tuckett, Director of NIACE, said, “Since the incorporation of colleges, every change to the institutional infrastructure has initially resulted in damage to provision for adult part-time students. The experience of NIACE is that any measures that set the needs of one group of learners against another generally results in adults losing out.”

He continued, “For the Government’s proposals to succeed, Whitehall departments, local government and new funding bodies and agencies will need to display greater levels of flexibility and willingness to work across organisational silos than has occurred in the past. The challenge for local authorities in working together and with others is considerable.”

NIACE proposes that Government should give local authorities a statutory duty to advise and comment on the plans of the Skills Funding Agency with regard to the adequacy and sufficiency of local arrangements for the education and training of adults - within their areas - in the welfare of communities.

Rosie Spowart

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