Statement on Liberal Democrats Manifesto

We welcome that the Liberal Democrats have today published their manifesto for the 2019 General Election. In it they outline their plans on a number of issues of relevance to the further education and skills sector.

These include:

The creation of a Skills Wallet which gives every adult £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives. For our analysis on this please follow the link [here]

A pledge to expand the apprenticeship levy into broader skills and training levy and for 25 per cent of the funds raised by the levy going into a ‘Social Mobility Fund’ targeted at areas with the greatest skill needs. We are concerned about the proposal to widen the scope of the levy beyond apprenticeships at this stage. Doing so runs the risk of undermining the uptake of apprenticeships and weakening the apprenticeship brand. We support the concept of using a portion of the levy to tackle social mobility, but if 25% of the levy is diverted this could have an impact on the ability of large employers to recruit new apprentices.

We are not convinced that national colleges are the right vehicle at this time to deliver the high-level vocational skills that businesses need. They have been running now for a number of years and with a couple of exceptions they have not gained traction. Overall numbers of starts remain low and the national colleges remain localised rather than truly national institutions. Collab Group developed a proposal to utilise existing networks of further education colleges to make these truly national institutions, and we would hope that the next government recognises that there is significant capability already in the FE sector which can be leveraged to catalyse the development of the national colleges . There is also a question about how Institutes of technology fit into the Liberal Democrats vision of the skills system as they, like the national colleges, are working towards the delivery of higher level vocational skills.

We welcome the commitment of £1 billion, but from the manifesto it is unclear which cohorts in the further education system would benefit from this funding. It is also welcome to see a proposal to refund VAT charges, but why not follow the same lines as schools and push for a VAT exemption? We often hear a lot about parity of esteem, so why not parity of treatment?

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This article was first published in FE Week