FE gains political clout in its move to boost skills agenda

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
BIS minister Hayes sees his education and skills portfolio extended to include a role at Department for Education

The government this week gave further education political influence across two departments in a move that will boost the training and skills agenda.

John Hayes, minister for further education, skills and lifelong learning at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), was given a new portfolio in the Department for Education (DfE).

In addition to his BIS role, Mr Hayes is now minister of state for apprenticeships (16 to 18) and careers advice at the DfE.

One of his first acts following Wednesday's announcement was to launch a consultation of the future and skills policy.

The move compliments this week's announcement that local authorities are to be stripped of their responsibilities for commissioning and funding 16 to 18 education and training in further education and sixth form colleges. The Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA) will carry out these functions from the start of the new academic year.

It is just four months since the previous government moved responsibility for commissioning and funding of under-19 college provision from the former Learning and Skills Council to local authorities.

Both of this week's moves are designed to simplify and ensure continuity for FE funding and planning. This is currently split between BIS and the DfE, with the former dealing with adult education and the latter responsible for 16 to 18.

David Willetts, minister for universities and science at BIS, told FE Focus: "David Cameron took the deliberate decision to keep BIS and the responsibilities inherited from Peter Mandelson.

"But it does leave FE uncomfortably straddling two departments. So we are looking at various ways in which we can ensure FE benefits from as simple and straightforward a funding regime as possible."

Mr Willetts said the aim was to give the "maximum possible simplicity" for FE working with existing departmental responsibilities.

"We are not trying to redraw the boundaries of Whitehall at the moment," he said.

Schools mininster Nick Gibb wrote to FE leaders on Monday saying that the YPLA would fund providers on the basis of their student numbers for the preceding year.

Mr Gibb wrote: "This is consistent with the decision not to make in-year adjustments and will remove the need for protracted discussions between the different parties as the basis of the budget will be on straightforward data returns."

Martin Doel, president of the Association of Colleges, who welcomed Mr Hayes' appointment, said the new methodology would give colleges a degree of stability in planning.

"These changes will be welcomed by colleges as a means by which the funding arrangements for 16 to 18-year-olds can be simplified and in the process costs contained to the benefit of frontline services to students. They are also consistent with the wider government policy of setting colleges free," he said.

Mr Doel said he hoped that both developments were stages on the way to further simplification and cost-effective FE delivery between BIS, the DfE and the Department for Work and Pensions and its welfare to work agenda.

But the Local Government Association (LGA), representing the country's 422 local authorities, said the decision to fund colleges through the YPLA would do little to simplify the system or deliver savings, as it still meant providers would deal with the Skills Funding Agency for adult learning funding.

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