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Colleges key to delivering on Starmer’s priorities

10 October 2023

Colleges are key to delivering the priorities set out by Labour leader Keir Starmer in his speech today, the Association of Colleges has stressed.

Mr Starmer rightly highlighted the crucial role of colleges as a critical national recourse for driving economic growth and breaking down barriers to opportunities for learners of all ages.

Pledging “a new direction on skills”, the Labour leader committed to supporting a “new generation of colleges” that would be “planted firmly in the ground of young people’s aspiration”.

The country’s further education colleges are ideally placed as institutions to help boost national productivity, break the class ceiling and open up opportunities for all, deliver the health and social care workforce of the future, help build safer and more cohesive communities, and support the green transition – the five priorities set out in the Labour leader’s speech at the party’s conference in Liverpool today.

Commenting on Keir Starmer’s speech, AoC chief executive David Hughes, said:

"Colleges are sitting right at the heart of communities across the country and are a critical national resource, so it is great the leader of the opposition recognises that. Keir Starmer is right to recognise their work to drive economic development and break down barriers to opportunity. Productivity and employer investment in training and colleges have suffered from over a decade of underinvestment so it's good to see a commitment to reverse that from the Labour leader through a vital and expanded role for colleges.

“Labour's plans also include stronger partnerships between colleges, employers, local and devolved governments and universities – and we are seeing great examples of such partnerships, led by our members, across the country already. They are focused on meeting local skills needs and training the ‘lab workers in Derbyshire’ and ‘automotive engineers in Wolverhampton’ Keir Starmer said he wanted to see.

“Successive governments have tried to invent new organisations - an approach that often results in duplication and wasted spending. It's significant and reassuring that Labour’s plans are explicitly focused on strengthening and investing in the existing college network, rather than creating new institutions.

“Colleges though face enormous staffing challenges as they compete with industry on pay for technically expert teachers. If we want to solve this, we will need to see more funding. That funding can build on the work colleges do to engage with employers, trade associations and unions as partners to develop the curriculum, the facilities and the trainers so that colleges can train and retrain the workers of the future. By building on the great colleges that we have now and on the work they do, progress can be quicker and more sustainable.”