Supporting local priorities through devolution
Even before the signing of The Greater Manchester Agreement last November, English regional devolution was a hot topic for Manchester - “DevoManc” had been on the agenda for some time. Nevertheless, when the announcement came, it still caused quite a stir. Things have moved quickly since then: the job description for the interim Mayor, who will be unelected at first, has been published and structures are being put in place to manage the new powers, responsibilities and budget in skills, as in other matters. This is a brilliant opportunity for The Manchester College and our colleagues in the Greater Manchester Colleges Group because we will play a leading role in making it a success for our communities and employers. The infrastructure to work with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and skills provider groups has been in place for many years and so needs no time to establish itself. This will be the best opportunity we’ve had in recent times to counteract ongoing funding cuts. The devastating reductions to the adult skills budget all too often create a skills pier for our disadvantaged students rather than the bridge they need to enable them to access sustainable opportunities in higher skilled employment. We have identified local priorities, such as additional courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and courses to prepare students for GCSE level study. When we were faced with cuts to our funding for these courses, we chose to continue them for our residents by subsidising from our commercial activity. We viewed this approach as essential in the short term, but it’s not sustainable. Devolution, through the Greater Manchester Agreement, will mean the region will have the long-term freedom to redirect funding to where it is actually needed. In the next few months we will be working with other providers and City Region leaders to re-shape and re-structure provision within Greater Manchester so that a new, forward looking, cost-neutral further education system is in place by 2017. How will this play out when set against a national, sector-based infrastructure that may have entirely different priorities? The challenge becomes even greater in an increasingly fragmented skills sector, with delivery and capital funding systems that favour school sixth forms, UTCs and National Colleges. Other regions will be watching with bated breath to see how devolution in skills is managed, and it’s for this region to set an example of how it can be used to the benefit the college, its students and the wider community. Let’s show what a difference it can make to have the money decisions made with local priorities in mind. Lisa is the Principal of The Manchester College.