Gemma Gathercole, Productivity & Skills Executive Officer at the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP)

Local Enterprise Partnerships

At the core, local enterprise partnerships are about collaboration. They are business led partnerships between local authorities and local private sector businesses, playing a central role in determining local economic priorities and undertaking activities to drive economic growth and job creation, improve infrastructure and raise workforce skills within the local area.

Coventry and Warwickshire Economy

The economy of Coventry and Warwickshire builds on its central location, distinctive businesses, innovation assets and highly talented workforce. Coventry and Warwickshire is recognised as a global hub in the advanced manufacturing and engineering sector, with business and research links across the world.

It is a major player in the Digital arena which plays a key part in the local economy.

A Mixed Devolution Area

But in the context of devolution, this doesn’t explain the whole story. While Coventry and Warwickshire LEP is a non- Constituent member of the West Midlands Combined Authority, our partner local authorities and district councils have different positions. Coventry City Council is one of seven Constituent Local Authorities, which gives them full membership and voting rights, including voting for the West Midlands Mayor.

However, Warwickshire County Council and four of the five district councils are non-constituent members, which gives them less voting rights, they do not vote on the Mayor and are not part of the devolved Adult Education Budget.

This in and out reality gives us an unusual perspective on the impact of devolution and the issues that arise from imposing policy borders that create dividing lines that people, jobs and skills needs do not recognise.

National Skills Fund

Read any report on skills and you will be clear that we have a skills gap in the UK. What is less clear is any form of consensus over how we can address it.

The reasons for the skills gap are numerous, complicated and interconnected.

We can and should make the system easier for individuals and employers and for training providers to deliver. As a Local Enterprise Partnership within a devolved area, we have some experience of implementation

and some lessons to learn for the skills fund.

There is a fine tightrope for the National Skills Fund to tread in order to be a success. It needs to be sufficiently locally focused to respond to skills needs in local areas, but not too local to create a postcode lottery of provision and access.

We cannot escape that funding drives behaviour. What is needed is better access to information about what skills are needed in the labour market, while this is relatively easy to do in the short term, it’s much harder in the long term.

The National Skills Fund is needed to support individuals to access training that leads to better paid, more secure work, to enable them to progress in their chosen careers and, should they want or need to, it should allow them to retrain in another sector. For employers it should provide access to a pool of suitable talent for their roles or support them in accessing training to upskill where there isn’t a pool of suitably qualified applicants.


1: Allow decisions to be made locally

At local levels, business support providers and intermediary bodies can have detailed conversations with individual businesses to understand the support required by businesses, the National Skills Fund needs to replicate this for skills training.

When examining data for skills needs, it is easy to aggregate and come to a conclusion that there’s enough commonality of requests that national policy and national entitlements can appropriately serve skills needs, but there are different emphases when you look at the data available in smaller geographic areas. The qualification levels of Coventry and Warwickshire are generally high, but within that there’s great variety and across the employment landscape there’s a great diversity of industry, which makes any attempt to capture a single picture a challenge.

2: Avoid a Postcode Lottery

While it might feel a little contradictory to the above, our experience of devolution tells us to be cautious of creating artificial dividing lines. Our providers, especially those in border locations, now have to maintain two different offers – that supported by the West Midlands Combined Authority and that of national entitlement.

While, WMCA constituent residents can access a more flexible and locally defined offer, Warwickshire residents can only access the national offer. This complexity will only increase with further devolution and given that the UK workforce doesn’t always live and work in the same area, never mind post code, the skills fund needs to understand individual mobility a little more.

3: Work Collaboratively

The National Skills Fund will not exist in a vacuum and we can’t expect wholesale change to the machinery of government and particularly to the skills system institutions. And so, there needs to be a greater emphasis on collaboration.

The reality is that individuals needing upskilling or reskilling will probably need to access more than one intervention, probably over time but a skilled Engineer does not enter the workforce day 1 at the highest level. A senior care worker was probably a junior care worker at one stage. Put simply the expert at anything was once a novice.

The National Skills Fund and probably the skills system more widely needs to support individuals to understand not only the breadth of opportunities but also the pathways to achieving them and the pathways within that career as a whole and that needs FE, HE, employers, local authorities, LEPs and others to support a more collaborative approach.

Gemma Gathercole, Productivity & Skills Executive Officer at the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP)


Making a Success of the National Skills Fund

As we enter the 2020s, adults and employers are confronted with unprecedented economic and labour market change, in this context NCFE and Campaign for Learning asked twelve authors to set out their initial thoughts on the National Skills Fund, and the journey towards a ‘right to retraining’. 

These leading thinkers recommend policies for the reform of adult education to support a changing economy in this collection of articles.

Exploring the proposed National Skills Fund and an individual’s right to retraining in more detail, these articles highlight some of the major challenges the policy faces, alongside issues which are set to further impact the economy.

The authors are:

  • Stephen Evans, Chief Executive of Learning and Work Institute - Renewing Lifelong Learning through the National Skills Fund

  • Tom Bewick, Chief Executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies (FAB) - Backing Adults: Turning the National Skills Fund into Skills Accounts

  • Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) - Funding Skills Accounts through the National Skills Fund

  • Ewart Keep, Director of SKOPE, University of Oxford - A Dual Approach - Retain the National Retraining Scheme and Devolve the National Skills Fund

  • Jamie Driscoll, Mayor, North Tyne Combined Authority - Devolve the National Skills Fund to Elected Mayors and LEPs

  • Gemma Gathercole, Productivity & Skills Executive Officer at the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) - The National Skills Fund and Part-In, Part-Out Devolution

  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges - Bringing the National Skills Fund and Adult Education Budget Together

  • Simon Parkinson, CEO and General Secretary, Workers’ Education Association (WEA) - The National Skills Fund – Engaging the Whole Community

  • Kim Chaplain, Director for Work, Centre for Ageing Better - The National Skills Fund – No Older Adult Left Behind

  • Greg Wade, Policy Manager, Universities UK - HE and FE must collaborate over the National Skills Fund

  •  Andy Westwood, University of Manchester - From the National Skills Fund to a ‘Right to Retraining’

You may also be interested in these articles:

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