To receive a verbal presentation from Councillor I Maher, Portfolio Holder: Education, Employment, Apprenticeships and Skills on the key developments within the remit of this portfolio.
Councillor I Maher, Portfolio Holder: Education, Employment, Apprenticeships and Skills provided a presentation to members of the LCR Combined which set out the following:-
· Highlighted that the programme to improve skills and access to work for residents across the City Region was ambitious and would support the growth of the City Region’s economy.
· Reported the Devolution Agreement had identified a number of key aspects, such as Devolution of the Adult Education Budget, joint work on Apprenticeships and Careers and the co-commissioning of Work and Health programmes. All of which were being progressed.
· Summarised the actions arising from the Corporate Plan and brought Members attention to the work of the Apprenticeship programme. In particular emphasising why a successful apprenticeship programme was important for the City Region, to ensure that there was sufficient learning and skills opportunities to support a modern workplace and access to employment.
· Explained that there were less apprenticeship commencing across all sectors in the City Region since the introduction of the funding reforms in April 2017. However, a number of actions were being implemented to improve the number of apprenticeship starts, which included with the introduction of travel discount for 19-24 year olds and college and training providers developing new curricula.
· Highlighted how discussions continued with Central Government to introduce flexibilities on funding for the Apprenticeship Levy and advised that to support access to Apprenticeships in the City Region an Application Portal would be launched in March 2019 and a Graduation Ceremony would also be held in March to celebrate achievements as part of National Apprenticeships Week.
· Provided an update on the progress of the devolution of the Adult Education Budget which would be devolved to the City Region from 1 August 2019 and be approximately £52 million. The funding would support a more responsive and flexible skills system for adults and seek to meet the needs of local priorities as identified in the Skills Strategy.
· The Households into Work programme was supporting households, rather than individuals, into work and focused on those who had complex barriers preventing them from accessing employment opportunities.
· Skills for Growth Action Plans had been developed to communicate the future skills requirements across a number of sectors. The Plans had been developed with key stakeholders such as employers and the LEP Sector Boards and Panels. The Plans would be reviewed by the Employment and Skills Board to ensure the completion of the actions.
· Careers provision across the City Region was fragmented along with a high number of providers involved trying to provide advice and guidance. However, there was continued work to be undertaken with schools to address this fragmentation. Engagement with Central Government was ongoing to encourage the devolution of careers information.
· Emphasised the importance of providing informative careers information to young people which was reflective of the current and future job opportunities. However, for careers information to be meaningful, consistent and to avoid the duplication of provision, lobbying of the National Schools Commissioner would be undertaken to ensure that guidance and advice was being delivered in schools.
· Reflected upon the overall unemployment figures across the City Region which highlighted that in activity levels are significantly higher than the national average, the in activity gap was not closing and it wasn’t a generational issue and mental health issues were increasingly prevalent.
· Summarised the next steps which included hosting the discussions in the City Region with Government in relation to the impact of apprenticeships locally and continuing to discuss with Government the issues relating to the Apprenticeship levy and sharing the evidence gained from employers.
Councillor L Robertson-Collins, Deputy Portfolio Holder: Education, Employment, Apprenticeships and Skills welcomed the positive presentation. She expressed her concern regarding the reduction in the number of Apprenticeship starts in the City Region and attributed this in part to a reduction in investment across local government. She also sought clarity on how the Combined Authority could influence careers provision.
Councillor I Maher, reported that the development of school curriculum was beyond the influence of the Combined Authority and remained within the purview of Central Government. However, until the Combined Authority was able to influence the school curriculum there would continue to be an emphasis on the academic route which was not suited to all students. He expressed the importance of a fundamental change in the operation of workplace experience to one which was on an equal footing to that of the academic option.
Councillor P Davies, reflected upon the ineffective operation of the Apprenticeship Levy. He highlighted that the Levy should be creating a parity of esteem between the vocational and academic route, however, in reality this was not being achieved due to the complexity surrounding the operation of the Levy and it was not being used to its full potential by employers. He further highlighted that Government continued to refuse to listen to the experiences of employers, who were trying to utilise the Apprenticeship Levy, and as such was impinging upon the ability to deliver the skills agenda across the City Region. He requested that Government continue to be lobbied to review the operation of the Levy otherwise the Levy would remain unspent and not support the skills of the residents of the City Region.
Mr A Hamid MBE, reported that lobbying of central government on the matter of the Apprenticeship levy continued and further devolution surrounding its operation would be welcomed. He highlighted that there was currently a significant underspend of the levy across the City Region and the North West and a collective approach with neighbouring areas should be considered to look to address the matter. He set out the importance of ensuring that the Skills Strategy was appropriate to create an economic improvement for the City Region.
Metro Mayor S Rotheram acknowledged that Central Government’s operation of the Apprenticeship Levy was not having the desired impact across the City Region. Therefore, evidence was being gathered to demonstrate the skills shortage in the City Region and that if the Levy remained unallocated the skills shortage would increase.
RESOLVED – That Councillor I Maher be thanked for his informative presentation and the content be noted.