Viewpoint - Let reform take its cue from the capital

14th November 2008 at 00:00
The London Mayor's approach to skills training could lead the way for other regions - perhaps even for government itself

The London Skills and Employment Board is the first of its kind in England with statutory status. It is responsible for the strategic direction of the Learning and Skills Council's Pounds 600 million adult skills budget in London, and can influence other skills and employment funding, including the London Development Agency's Pounds 42 million investment to deliver sustained jobs for workless Londoners.

The board is chaired by Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, and was set up by the Government to plan for the capital's skills and employment needs.

London is a very successful economy, but not all benefit. There are high levels of unemployment, social exclusion and poverty, and many people do not have the skills to compete in a labour market that is increasingly highly skilled. In fact, 44 per cent of all people of working age in the capital have no qualifications.

The board aims to give better support to employers in providing more job and training opportunities and to boost Londoners' skills and prospects.

Much of the work will be specific to London's needs, but one aspect will be of interest to the rest of the UK - our determination to keep up the progress towards creating a coherent approach to employment and vocational training.

Our guiding principles include putting employers and individuals in the driving seat and making sure public money is used where it is most needed to promote social cohesion.

While we are all clear about the importance of employment and skills, there is a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what. The separation of responsibilities and funding between the LSC, the Department for Work and Pensions and the regional development agencies means many businesses, employees, and even the jobless, will continue to fall through the gaps.

Structural reform is needed. College leaders are used to being told that they must innovate to survive, so surely the time has come for government departments, funding bodies and statutory agencies to be equally open to new ways of working together.

The board has put itself on the right track by developing an approach to joint investment planning and commissioning, and working towards a "single purse" for skills and employment in London aimed at achieving sustained employment and progression.

The London LSC, the London Development Agency and Jobcentre Plus are working together to identify how they can create a much more integrated service for individuals and employers. The board is also galvanising support from employers across the capital to take action to support its aims. All of this supports the way forward recommended by the UK commission for skills.

We are working to ensure that we put into practice reforms that will continue well beyond 2010, when our statutory powers will be transferred into the new arrangements for adult skills.

The board is also working to make sure that the new 14-19 arrangements from 2010 will be sensitive to the needs of employers and support the board's strategy for post-19.

There is a real thirst to do things differently, and to get it right. Without statutory powers, there simply would not be the same momentum.

What would it be like if all the relevant government departments enabled resources to be pooled and for services to be commissioned through a single agency?

This feels like a good time to dream a little.

Mariane Cavalli, Principal of Croydon College.

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