Thursday, November 30, 2017

News: Government putting SCR's Skills Bank at risk

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The Government is potentially risking the continuation of the £17m Skills Bank initiative in the Sheffield city region (SCR) as the first phase draws to a close.

The Skills Bank was designed to give employers greater purchasing power and control in how Government funded training is accessed.

Securing the tender, PwC has been managing and running the Skills Bank and is responsible for employer engagement and marketing, triage and brokerage service, the procurement of education and training, contract and financial management and the management of reporting activities.

The aim is to create a demand-led skills system funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and Growth Funding from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

Almost 7,000 learners have already benefited from learning new skills and now businesses across the SCR are being encouraged to get any outstanding applications submitted before the deadline of Friday December 8 2017, before Skills Bank transitions into its second phase in 2018.

The contract for the first phase of the scheme comes to an end on March 31 2018. Next year the Skills Bank will transition into its second phase maintaining its core ethos of providing access to funding to support training to promote growth. But this is subject to new funding.

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Ahead of the Autumn Budget, the SCR Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) called on the Government to "increase the funding from £3.6m to £5m to continue growing the highly successful Skills Bank."

At the same time, a call went out to support a new Skills Hub in the SCR. With £1.9m of European Social Fund available, the aim is to create a hub that will provide access to information, advice and guidance to businesses who require support on skills related matters. It is set to operate from 2018 until 2021.

In addition, the SCR had been hoping for full devolution of funding for the 19+ adult skills budget from 2018/19 but this may not happen due to the delays with the devolution deal and elected mayor.

In July the board of the SCR LEP were informed of recent policy shifts by the Government's SFA and the imposition of stricter rules on funding which "threaten to unbalance the Skills Bank programme and introduce a number of risks to current delivery activity due to the insistence that Growth Deal funding be used ahead of European funding."

The LEP minutes show: "The Board noted concern at this development and dismay the Government is potentially risking the continuation of the initiative. It was suggested "sound bites" from private sector partners might be sought to add weight to the SCR's lobbying activities."

Laura Bennett, board member at the SCR LEP, said: "The first phase of Skills Bank has been extremely successful, with more than 430 deals already approved with SCR businesses, and 6,939 learners being supported to enhance their skills.

"This "let's get it done" work-ethic in the Sheffield city region harnesses drive and ambition. With everyone pulling together, and a significant sense of community, we are achieving transformational change and building a thriving, super-connected and successful economy.

"This is helping to attract, retain and develop skills in the region which are so important for the SCR's sustainable growth."

This week the Government announced the roll out of the first seven Skills Advisory Panels in regions across England to help identify the skills needs and employer demands at a local level. It does not include the Sheffield city region.

SCR Skills Bank website

Images: SCR Skills Bank

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