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Mayors call on DfE to 'take handbrake off' skills devolution

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England’s directly-elected mayors are jointly calling for the devolution of more powers and funding over skills.

Meeting in Liverpool today, all eight mayors have signed a joint statement calling for further reforms to the skills system including more control over apprenticeship levy funds to boost skills in their areas.

Present at the meeting will be Tim Bowles (Con), West of England; Andy Burnham (Lab), Greater Manchester; Sadiq Khan (Lab), London; Ben Houchen (Con), Tees Valley; Steve Rotheram (Lab), Liverpool City Region; and Andy Street (Con), West Midlands. James Palmer (Con), Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, and Dan Jarvis (Lab), Sheffield City Region, are unable to attend but signed the joint statement.

The meeting follows on from previous meetings in London and Birmingham.

A focus for discussions will be the government’s apprenticeship levy, which is intended to fund new apprenticeships through a 0.5% charge on the paybill for employers with salary costs worth more than £3m per year. Funding can then be drawn down by employers to pay for apprenticeships.

However, a statement from the mayors said that since the levy was introduced new apprenticeship starts have dropped by 24%, and businesses are finding it difficult to provide the apprenticeships the regions need. They have requested a meeting with skills minister Anne Milton to discuss how the mayors can work with the government to increase the uptake of apprenticeships and improve technical education in their regions.

In an interview with LGC in April, Mr Street said his “single biggest priority” for his second year in office is to “deliver more” on skills devolution despite foot-dragging from the government.

Mr Rotheram, in a separate interview in February, said the Department for Education needs to “change its culture” if it is to achieve its aims on improving educational development.

In statements released today, Mr Street said “we need the funding and flexibilities in order to make the apprenticeship system work”.

Mr Burnham said “further devolution to allow a less fragmented post-16 skills system… would go a long way to connecting residents and businesses” and added devolving “the apprenticeship levy underspend… could prove vital in helping both our young people and us to achieve our aims.”

Mr Palmer said: “If mayors are to successfully help address this nation’s productivity shortfall and boost the economy, they need fuller access to all of the tools at their disposal, of which skills is a key component.

“The Department for Education needs to take off the handbrake and understand that mayors are best placed to pinpoint funding into training and apprenticeships that will offer the best possible outcomes for young people, while also satisfying the needs of the business community.”

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