Bill Jones

Bill Jones, Deputy CEO at @LuminateEdGroupp and Principal at @leedscitycoll reflects on the #Budget2021 

The Chancellor’s Budget announcement has revealed many positive opportunities for FE colleges in terms of funding, particularly with the investment in traineeships and apprenticeships as well as the Help to Grow scheme for SMEs, with subsidies for business and digital training. These are very welcome and signal that skills could play an important role in our economic recovery post-pandemic. The question now is whether these new initiatives can pave the way for skills to move from an important role to the central role in the country's long-term recovery and growth.  

The immediate focus has been on averting a mass unemployment crisis but once jobs have been safeguarded, the focus needs to shift to long-term sustainable growth with skills at the heart of this. Measures to support retraining with investment will help to make the proposals in The Skills for Jobs White Paper a reality. Creative initiatives like Kickstart and bootcamps need to be consolidated and incorporated into core funding for colleges. This would allow them to develop collaborative skills plans with employers and other stakeholders, joining up separate initiatives to provide a sustained and long-term movement of people into secure jobs that allow the British economy to better compete in the global economy.  

It’s not a secret that our sector has struggled over the last decade to get appropriate funding, with further education often being overlooked. For all the heartache and challenges that the pandemic has posed, the severe impact on education has meant that the government can no longer ignore the importance of FE colleges. It’s a shame that it has taken Covid-19 to really push us to the fore, but the funding is certainly a step in the right direction and clear recognition of the role colleges are set to play in the recovery of our economy, on both a regional and national level.  

Once the excitement of reading those initial funding headlines subside, for many there will be a feeling of disappointment and uncertainty. While extra money is welcomed, it doesn’t really account for the damage that has already been caused to not only young people, but also teaching staff. That level of understanding in relation to the impact the pandemic has had on both students and staff, especially from a wellbeing perspective, hasn’t been reflected in the Budget announcement.

It’s easy to make money available, but ultimately the responsibility is still firmly on the shoulders of those working within the sector to access the funds and drive forward recovery plans. A key step in the process is missing and this is how we are going to bring students back safely and support them through the next phase in their learning. We must not fall into the trap of putting more pressure on young people to carry the burden of our economic recovery.

Similarly for our teaching colleagues, who are currently working tirelessly to coordinate the return of students from next week and for mass asymptomatic testing, the news of more funding doesn’t really answer some of the barriers they are facing today. In most instances, accessing funding isn’t always straightforward and is a time-consuming process. Time is something that our sector doesn’t currently have to spare. The focus for many is going to be ensuring the safe return of students and also organising what ‘catch-up’ programmes are going to be put in place.

While the announcement doesn’t currently give our sector a lot to go off, it is pleasing to see that there will be additional financial backing available. It has also presented some extra opportunities for us to continue to support SMEs, with subsidised courses now being offered across digital and business areas. From a regional perspective, the news regarding the first ever UK infrastructure bank to be located in Leeds signifies a positive step in terms of levelling up the North. 

The hope is that in the coming days we see more specific details on the aid being offered to FE colleges. It would also be encouraging to see the government acknowledge how education institutions can’t all be lumped together and that it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Bill Jones, Deputy CEO at Luminate Education Group and Principal at Leeds City College 

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