Businesses applaud UK skills 'revolution'

Business leaders have welcomed government proposals for a skills "revolution" in the UK, focused on education and training for older teenagers and adults of all ages.

The plans were laid out in the Queen's Speech to parliament on Tuesday when she outlined government legislation to be introduced over the coming 12 months.

Queen's Speech: impact on UK education

A key proposal was a Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which will include a new flexible loan scheme for part-time or full-time higher education and training at a university or college and which any Briton can use at “any point in their lives”.Employers will also have a statutory role in planning publicly-funded training programmes with education providers through a 'Skills Accelerator' programme.

The "levelling up" agenda

The legislative programme also includes plans on infrastructure and for accelerating the government's 'levelling up' agenda, aimed at spreading the economic success of London and SE England throughout the country.Measures include a Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill to extend 5G mobile coverage and introduce new safety standards for digital devices.

Tax breaks and other aid for UK private companies

A new bill will set out post-Brexit regulations on how the government can support private companies, now the UK has left the EU's "state aid" regime, while a Procurement Bill, will replace EU rules on how the government buys services from the private sector.Later this year, legislation will set out tax breaks companies can enjoy if they locate at eight freeports to be established in England in the near future, and a new agency is to be created to enhance ground-breaking scientific research.

A UK planning bill to encourage house building - will it weaken local input?

Additionally, a long-anticipate Planning Bill will go before parliament aimed at encouraging house building but which critics say will weaken local input in the planning system in England.

UK business generally welcome the government's measures

Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said he generally welcomed the government's measures, although he felt there were "missed opportunities" in the Queen's Speech.“Business shares the government’s ambition to turbocharge the UK’s recovery post-pandemic and reset the economy. The Queen’s Speech provides the building blocks for a decade of transformation and inclusive economic growth," he said.“It’s right that the golden thread in this legislative agenda is levelling-up the country. We haven’t got a moment to lose.“The strong focus on skills will support high quality, local jobs. The emphasis on rail, bus and digital will better connect local economies. And a fresh approach to innovation will unlock big, bold ideas and new sources of growth around the country.“But business will feel there were some missed opportunities. Firms were looking for greater impetus on enabling legislation to speed up the race to zero, and action on business rates to stimulate investment and revive our high streets.“The UK’s international competitiveness relies on playing to the economic strengths of our regions and nations. It’s time to turn these measures into swift and bold action.”

Promised skills "revolution" is "very much welcomed"

Agata Nowakowska, assistant vice-president EMEA at education technology company Skillsoft, commented: “Over the past year, coronavirus has shaken the economy, from causing redundancies to disrupting careers across many sectors. For many, investment in skills support will be key to addressing both the disruption in the UK labour market, as well as the growing digital skills gap.“With digital transformation encroaching on all industries, the announcement today promising a skills “revolution” for England, with loans for adults wanting to retrain and more powers to deal with failing colleges, is very much welcomed."This is a vital step in growing the skills of tomorrow as well as supporting the UK economy to build back up after a year of turmoil.”

Apprenticeship levy system needs changes

However, Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said any reforms to the UK’s skills and training infrastructure would be undermined without any change to the apprenticeship levy system.“The government’s ambition to revamp the further education system by boosting employer engagement with local colleges and investment in adult skills is exactly right, but will be fatally undermined unless the apprenticeship levy is reformed,” he said.Willmott added that turning the apprenticeship levy pot into a more flexible fund would allow firms to invest in other forms of training and development more suitable for existing and often older employees.“Developing the skills of managers to manage people is an absolute priority for all organisations, but there are much more cost effective and flexible forms of training to achieve this than through management apprenticeships,” he said.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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