The Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015 made clear the Government’s intention to accelerate the process of ceding more responsibility for delivering a range of services to the local level. The logic is that local actors are better placed to identify local priorities.
This raises the issue of how local skills systems – including further education and apprenticeship providers, schools, universities, employers, local authorities and associated agencies, Local Enterprise Partnerships and the voluntary sector – can work better.
Skills funded through the adult skills budget (i.e. funding dedicated to meeting the skill needs of those aged 19 years and over) will, over coming years, increasingly fall under the control of combined authorities.
From the academic year 2016/17 grant funding for non-apprenticeship further education is being brought together under a new unified adult education budget, which will be distributed to providers through a block grant.
The adult education budget brings together £1.5 billion of funding in the 2016-17 financial year, combining the previously distinct community learning, discretionary learning support and non-apprenticeship adult skills budgets.
The medium-term aim is for devolution of the adult education budget to combined authorities, starting from 2018/19, as part of wider devolution deals negotiated between central government and local areas. This marks a substantial change in practice.
If local areas have responsibility for meeting adult skills needs, how will they ensure that local supply can meet local demand?
Overall the Local skills case study provides an opportunity to understand the way in which local-national and local-local collaborative working needs to develop if it is to enhance skill development in England, by:
- identifying how other countries have devolved their skills and employment policy to local or regional levels;
- undertaking a local case study, that encompassed multiple local authorities - where moves to shape local skills provision to local demand were already in train – to understand how local skills devolution can be best realised. The Black Country in the West Midlands was selected as the case study;
- reflecting upon the international and local evidence to develop a framework to be used as a tool that will allow local actors to use their combined local knowledge to answer key questions about the context, drivers for change and desired outcomes to enable them to more effectively deliver local skills to meet local needs.
In developing the framework and undertaking the research in the Black Country and reviewing international experience, a series of generic issues were identified which are likely to exist in most contexts. These issues pick up on several of the points in the framework, and are described to provide further reflection on possible challenges and how these might be addressed:
International experience suggests that the divisions between the national and local scales in decision-making will continue to change over time. It is hoped that the framework presented in this report will help local areas in understanding their local circumstances so that they take action accordingly.