Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen met his counterparts from across the UK today to call on Government for greater devolution of powers and funding over skills.
Mayor Houchen attended a summit in Liverpool alongside five elected regional mayors to press for reforms to the skills system. Representing nearly 42 per cent of all economic activity in the UK, the mayors signed a joint statement calling for control of Apprenticeship Levy funds to boost skills in their areas, and full devolution of 16-18 skills funding.
Last week, the Tees Valley Combined Authority agreed a move to secure an indicative £30.5million per year in Government funding for post-19 adult education in the region. Devolution of the budget allows the Mayor and Cabinet to target funds where they are most needed, to provide skills training, help local people back to work and nurture home-grown talent.
Today’s statement calls on the Government to go further and devolve the 16-18 education budget to regions and the “flexibility” they need to address skills issues in their areas, and further control of the raised Apprenticeship Levy.
The policy is intended to fund new apprenticeships through a levy of 0.5% of their paybill for employers with salary costs of more than £3million per year. Funding can then be drawn down by employers to pay for apprenticeships.
However there are concerns from the business community that the money paid in is not being properly withdrawn.
While in Liverpool, Mayor Houchen also attended the 2018 International Business Festival, to bang the drum for the Tees Valley to the assembled businesses from across the UK.
Mayor Houchen said: “Apprenticeships enable people to earn while they learn, and open doors to highly skilled, rewarding careers. There have been 1.2 million new training starts since 2015, but more needs to be done. Government has put its faith in regional mayors to deliver for local people, but we need all levers possible to finish the job.
“The people who are best placed to solve the issues facing our area are those with first-hand experience. Further devolved decision-making would help all our city regions fulfil their potential and develop home-grown talent, in turn helping the entire UK.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “We may come from different parts of the country and represent different political parties but we all share the same belief – that devolution is the key to unlocking future growth and improving productivity across the UK.
“That is why we are calling on the Government to grant further devolution of powers on skills, including the power to spend £1.3bn of unspent Apprenticeship Levy money in our own city regions.
“This is the first step – but in London, I want to go even further, and for London’s whole contribution to the apprenticeship levy to be ringfenced and devolved to spend on meeting the capital’s complex skills needs.”
Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, said: “Skills is a huge challenge for the West Midlands, and we need the funding and flexibilities in order to make the apprenticeship system work as it should in our region.
“We need Government’s help to make sure that this system works for business and for people who want to gain the skills they need to get well-paid jobs.
“As we develop our Local Industrial Strategy, we want to bring business, Government and learners together to reshape the skills landscape in the West Midlands.”