The government should devolve all skills and apprenticeship training to local areas, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.
A new report, commissioned by the LGA and published today, estimates that 6 million people in England risk being without a job or in work they are overqualified for by 2030. It also estimates that not meeting the skills needs of employers could lead to a loss of £120 billion in economic output by the end of the decade.
Brexit, according to the LGA, offers “an opportunity to improve the current centrally governed skills and employment system”, in which £10.5 billion a year is spent by eight government departments or agencies across 20 different national schemes.
The LGA says this is creating a “confusing, fragmented, untargeted and ineffective system”, and councils, combined authorities and their partners could help the government tackle skills gaps and more effectively reduce long-term unemployment and the number of young people out of work by being able to target support locally.
It is therefore calling on the government to use March’s Budget to devolve all back-to-work, skills, apprenticeship, careers advice and business support schemes and funding to the local areas in which they are used.
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This, the LGA says, would involve groups of councils across England being given the power and funding to deliver a one-stop “work local” service for skills, apprenticeship, employment, careers advice and business support provision. It would bring together local skills planning, oversee job support including Jobcentre Plus and the Work and Health Programme, and coordinate careers advice and guidance for young people and adults.
Councillor Kevin Bentley, chair of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said millions of people faced a future in which they have skills mismatched for jobs at a huge cost to people’s lives and the local and national economy.
“Councils are ideally placed to lead efforts to help the government bring growth and jobs to all parts of the country and ensure everyone is fully equipped with the skills they need to compete for future jobs.
“For that to happen, our complex and fragmented national skills system needs to adapt to a changing jobs market.
“Better local coordination of services would provide better opportunities for young people to increase their skill levels and adults retrain and upskill for future jobs. This is key to driving up productivity, closing local skills gaps and boosting local economies.”
Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said: "Improving skills is central to making the 2020s a decade of growth. Other countries have continued to invest in skills, while progress in England has stalled over the last decade, the result of large cuts in England’s adult education budget which has left us lagging behind other countries and the number of adults improving their skills at a record low.
“We now need a decade of investment, in order to boost life chances, economic prosperity and to level up the country. That investment needs to be delivered through a partnership between national and local government, employers and trade unions. The cost of inaction is large and growing: it is time for action and investment in lifelong learning.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We must make sure that people of all ages and backgrounds have the skills they need for employment, to get on in life and strengthen the UK economy. We are providing an extra £3 billion, over the course of this parliament, for a new National Skills Fund to help people learn new skills and prepare for the economy of the future.
“We are continuing to invest in education and skills training for adults through the Adult Education Budget. Around half of this budget has been devolved, allowing authorities to directly support adults in developing the skills that local employers need, reducing skills shortages and improving wellbeing in communities.”