The evolution of skills devolution

Paul Turner

November 2018 has been a month of high importance in the adult education funding calendar. A number of Combined Authorities and devolved regions have set out their stalls regarding devolution of the Adult Education Budget and long-awaited movement of adult skills funding from national to local control is now underway.

Out of the seven combined authority and city regions active so far, Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Greater London have all opened up their tendering processes in earnest.

Numerous early engagement events for providers and other stakeholders have either happened or are currently taking place and partnerships are being sounded out, forged and re-forged. Candles are being burned and late nights aplenty are no doubt becoming the norm for many provider staff.

The remaining  4 - Tees Valley, West Midlands, West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – are all expected to open up their tendering processes in early 2019.

At stake is a slice of a potential £200m plus of contracts per year for the delivery of adult education and skills within those regions. The final amounts will not be confirmed by until early 2019 by government but it is likely they will not be far away from the figures being looked at now.

So why is this so important and what changes will we see in the delivery of this funding?

Digging into the wording of the tender documents we begin to see where some of the differences will likely take place. For example, one of the key aspects of the Greater Manchester tender is the alignment of provider delivery to their social value policy – early engagement events focussed on this policy at every opportunity. Liverpool are seeking, alongside national entitlements, to carry out innovative test and learn delivery approaches around ESOL, Digital Skills and maths and English provision. Greater London meanwhile, is seeking skills improvements in health and social care; construction; tourism, hospitality and retail; creative and digital and financial and professional services. No doubt the remaining 4 regions will also have some specific focus for their tender releases.

The timescales are set now with submissions to be evaluated around April 2019, contracts awarded May/June and the start of a new delivery approach from 1 August. Needless to say, a number of individuals, stakeholders, businesses, professional organisations, government departments and unsuccessful bidders will be watching what unfolds with keen eyes. The regions themselves will need to be cautious but not overbearing, relaxed but ready to move if problems arise.

All of the devolved regions will have their funding teams in place for the management and audit of delivery – some slightly more contentious than others in the way they have been set up.

And we must not forget the residents, the learners. The promise of a truly regional skills and funding strategy is valuable indeed. No beholding to central government offices, more freedom to innovate and more flex to address local problems. On top of this the emerging local industrial strategies will give more focus with the two approaches hopefully doing for each region what successive disjointed approaches have failed to do.

Whatever the outcomes achieved and directions these initiatives take, we will be there to support its customers during these new times. Our comprehensive product and service offer will give strength and depth to delivery and quality assurance to achievements. Together we will ensure the new world of skills devolution will more than meet the goals it has been set.