Divert unspent apprenticeship cash to improve local skills provision, report on FE collaboration urges

Government should scoop up millions of pounds worth of funds lying dormant in thousands of business apprenticeship levy accounts to help jump-start a skills revolution across England’s regions, a new report issued today by Localis has argued.

The recommendation is made in a Localis report entitled ‘Working Better Together – colleges collaborating to succeed’ which examines how Further Education (FE) colleges could work better together to seize the devolution agenda and upskill the nation’s workforce.

Localis found the majority, some 11,000 out of 19,150 eligible companies, have not signed up to the online service allowing them to passport 10% of their apprenticeship levy along their supply chain. The report authors urged the Government to force bosses to passport cash unspent after two years to regional economic players such as Local Enterprise Partnerships or  Combined Authorities – which would use the money to improve local skills provision.

The study also revealed that the substantial (29% between 2010/2011 and 2015/16) reduction in  funding for  Adult Skills – has created an environment where competition based on the need for institutional survival at all costs has driven strategy and behaviour.

The report advised FE colleges should take control of their destiny by adopting a collaborative model, dubbed the ‘enhanced consortium model’, to build mutually beneficial relationships between institutions. The model’s key tenets are:

  1. Resource sharing
  2. Specialisation
  3. Creating an active political presence
  4. Fostering genuine relationships with the local community
  5. Integrating strategic plans with the skills economy of the local region
  6. Voluntarism

Chief Executive of Localis, Liam Booth-Smith, said: “At present more than half of around 20,000 estimated eligible large employers have not yet registered with the online service which enables them to spend their apprenticeship levy funds.

“This is a ‘use it or lose it’ situation and this untapped cash should be put to the good use it was intended.  Government should, therefore, use the money that has lain dormant in these accounts to help local economic players – such as Combined Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships or Strategic Authorities, such as county councils – develop and support vocational skills and increase the quantity and quality of apprenticeships.”

Report co-author, Localis researcher Rosalind Kenny Birch, said: “The FE sector has been beset by frequent policy changes. Working in a collaborative model, rather than alone, will give colleges the resources and cohesion they need to proactively set policy agendas.”

“Enhanced cooperation can most effectively take place within small regions: FE institutions can come together to develop strategic plans aiming to upskill locals, meet skills deficits and give people who wish to further develop their professional skills or re-train the opportunity to do so.”

Chief Executive Officer of Dudley College of Technology, Lowell Williams, said:  “The reality for the Further Education sector is that a new system is emerging around us. With power now devolved to new sub-regional levels, the sector will require enhanced consortium groupings of colleges if we wish to influence freshly empowered Combined Authorities, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Skills Advisory Panels.

“The future is working together. There should be no issue with competition among colleges when necessary, but there is a problem when competition for its own sake risks diverting precious resources and energy.

“Recent funding pressures and changes led by the devolution agenda and changing qualification landscape have left FE leaders in a constant state of adaptation.

“But this also presents institutions with a unique opportunity to influence, one which colleges must seize by meaningful strategic collaboration that fosters a stronger channel of communication to regional business leaders and national government alike.”