This week saw the Queen’s Speech take place at the annual state opening of Parliament, outlining the UK government’s legislative agenda for the coming year, and with a number of implications for the employability sector.
With regards to skills, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill outlined a new “lifetime skills guarantee.” This includes measures to transform the student loans system by giving every adult “access to a flexible loan for higher-level education and training at university or college, useable at any point in their lives.” Employers will also have a statutory role in planning publicly-funded training programmes with education providers, through a “Skills Accelerator.”
The programme proposes that the current system will also be reformed “around the needs of employers so that people are trained for the skills gaps that exist now and, in the future, in sectors the economy needs including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing.” The Learning and Work Institute’s Chief Executive Stephen Evans has provided an insightful analysis of these proposals here.
While the objective of placing a stronger emphasis on employers as part of the skills system was welcomed, however, there has been vocal criticism that these ambitions cannot succeed while the existing Apprenticeship Levy remains unreformed. The CIPD in particular, for example, have argued that “the levy is failing to deliver the right results for learners and employers,” and that “a more flexible training levy would enable employers to invest in other forms of accredited training and development, and would maximise opportunities for employers to work with their local further education colleges and universities” (see here for their full response).
These concerns were also reinforced by the news that across the UK more than £1bn of Apprenticeship Levy money is currently going unspent, reinforcing calls for reform of the Levy. Regardless, the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will be introduced next week: see here for a detailed summary of what it is expected to contain.
Beyond lifelong learning and skills provision, perhaps the most surprising news of the Queen’s Speech was the quiet announcement that the Employment Bill that has been promised by the Government as a forthcoming legislative priority has been dropped entirely from their programme. This came as a shock to many across the employability sector and the wider policy landscape (including from both commentators and the Labour Party), and has lead to criticism that the Government’s “Levelling Up” agenda cannot expect to succeed without effective regulatory oversight in place to ensure that decent working standards are implemented and adhered to (the Institute for Employment Studies’ Director Tony Wilson has a useful rundown of what is affected by the lack of an Employment Bill).
You can find the Queen’s Speech and accompanying documents in full here, and stay tuned for our Labour Market and Policy Bulletin later this month for a more detailed analysis of the proposed programme and its implications for the employability sector.