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First step on a long journey

27 May 2015

Today’s Queen’s Speech marks the official start of the new Parliamentary session. The Conservative Government has, as expected, outlined much of the legislation needed to bring in their manifesto promises. Alongside the big news items such as the EU referendum, there is much that has an impact on the further education section, both directly and indirectly. Firstly, devolution. One of the most used words by Tory Ministers in the last five years has been localism – giving more control of what happens in a local area to local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and city regions. The announcement in today’s speech for the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill outlines the Conservative vision to give English cities more powers. It places in statute the deal already given to Manchester and creates a framework through which other combined authorities could achieve the same. The local colleges in Manchester have played a leading role so far in this. If devolution is extended further, colleges will want to ensure that they are front and centre with the changes. At the same time, however, the Government cannot forget those regions not covered by a city, and we will be working hard to make sure colleges in these areas do not miss out on any advantages. Predictably, there was mention of the increase in apprenticeships as part of the Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill. This has been one of the flagship policies both before and after the election. Government will appreciate that the target is certainly unachievable without help from colleges and a significant increase in the number of employers prepared to offer apprenticeships. However, in past blogs by both Richard Atkins and Julian Gravatt, we’ve outlined how the Government must remember there needs to be opportunities for the 25 million people who are ineligible for apprenticeships. If David Cameron’s aspiration of “full employment” is to be achieved, he cannot forget the impact colleges have in achieving this through the provision of training for adults. The Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill proposes that support from a Jobcentre Plus adviser is available in schools to supplement careers advice and provide routes in work experience and apprenticeships. At first glance this looks a positive step but it will be essential that the advisers know what courses and qualifications are available at local colleges. The establishment of a Youth Allowance for 18 to 21-year-olds, also announced today, will require those who receive it to go on an apprenticeship, training or community work placement after six months. Again, employers are the key to success here. Let’s hope the Government can persuade enough of them to step up. The Speech is the first step towards making some of the Conservative Party policies a reality. However, as we all know, the first step on a long journey is always the easiest. Chris Walden is the Director of Public Affairs and Communications at the Association of Colleges.