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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…LSC CHANGES – IMPROVEMENT OR A STEP TOO FAR?Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
SOMETHING is rotten in the state of Demark", is a famous quote from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It’s also a quote that could well be applied to the current state within the national Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which is the Government quango responsible for the strategic planning, funding and quality of all post-16 education and skills development (except Higher education) in England.

The LSC by its own admission, exists to make England better skilled and more competitive, and with a budget in 2015/06 of £9.3bn, plays a significant role in helping the nation’s employers and businesses improve their productivity and competitiveness. The LSC operates through 47 local offices and a national office in Coventry. Established in April 2001 its work covers:

further education

work-based training and young people

school sixth forms

workforce development

adult and community learning

information, advice and guidance for adults

education business links.

LSC London is one of the smallest of the 47 local LSCs, with a budget for 2015/06 of just £74m to achieve its objectives, and support some 20,180 businesses and just under half-a-million people in the County. It also forms a sub-region within the North West, and its Executive Director, Mick Farley, reports to a regional director, John Korzeniewski, based in Manchester.

In August, the national LSC announced its proposals for what was dubbed “a dynamic programme of change”, one which would herald a new era for the sector by improving the focus on the skills needs of employers, raising the quality of provision, simplifying the funding of training, reducing the complexity of data required from providers, improving capital investment in facilities, and enhancing the reputation (especially in FE) of the sector, as being pivotal to delivering the education and training needs of the UK.

The proposals have several major themes, but it’s the last one, Theme 7, that’s causing all the controversy, both nationally and locally. For it centres on the reorganisation of the LSC, resulting in the ‘downsizing’ of staff from the current level of 4,700 down to some 3,400 posts. This includes a reduction in the Head Office strength of about a half, with the remaining job losses taking place in the regions and local offices.

The LSC’s Chief Executive, Mark Haysom, claims that the proposals will not only make it a smaller, more dynamic organisation, but also release savings of some £40m per year which would benefit 80,000 adults or 12,000 young learners.

To achieve this transformation, many of the functions and roles carried out locally, are to be transferred to regional centre’s leaving only small teams of people at local level. This scaling down in the overall size of the organisation, taken together with giving operational control to the region, will leave the LSC in London with nine LSC funded plus three ESF funded posts, compared with 40 at the present.

Mick Farley’s role has also been redefined as Director and therefore been downgraded. The lay Council (Board) of the local LSC will remain, however, but serviced in the main from the regional centre.

While at first glance this may seem an inevitable and welcome streamlining of the LSC’s operations, and attempt to reduce bureaucracy and wastage, it’s not without its drawbacks. And no doubt that there will be some detractors within the County who will see this emasculation of the LSC as a cause for celebration, however, for employers and businesses it could mean an important loss of support to improve their productivity and skills.

Increasingly decision making on skills priorities and with it the allocation of LSC funds, will be made at regional level by John Korzeniewski and his team. Without a strong and vociferous local office to represent and champion the needs of the County’s employers and learners, it is highly likely that London will loose out in the distribution of extra cash.

In a recent personal statement made to the press, Mick Farley stated that: “The migration of processes to the region is likely to have a deleterious impact on LSC London’s ability to work effectively locally and on the LSC’s reputation with its partners.” He went on to add that “with only a total of 12 staff, driven top down from the centre via the region, with much reduced local discretion, it will be difficult (for LSC London) to drive forward the challenging County-wide agenda to which we have been so committed.”

And the first effects of this new Agenda for Change have already been felt within the County. This year’s budget allocation to LSC London from the region was ‘top-sliced’ by 5% to fund extra training for learners in Greater Manchester, Lancashire, and Cheshire and Warrington. The net effect of this has been to reduce funding to independent training companies and Colleges, to provide learner places for apprentices and adults.

This is particularly galling given that the performance of the County’s training providers is amongst the best, not only in the North West but the country as a whole:

Work Based Learning provider success rates at 56% have increased by 13% since 2002/03 – the highest in the North West and sixth highest in the country:

FE College success rates stand at 73%, which is above both regional and national averages, representing a 12% increase since 2000/01.

It would appear that despite this success, however, our reward has been to see our funding cut and redistributed to failing providers in other parts of the region!

We keep being told in report after report, that London’s economy is the fastest declining of all the sub-regions in the North West, which itself is lagging behind the economic growth of other parts of the country, in particular the South East and London. In fact London now compares with some of the former Soviet Eastern Block Countries, in terms of it’s economic activity and decline.

We also keep being told that one of the major contributors to economic decline and employers’ lack of competitiveness is the poor skill base of the workforce within the County. So how can it make economic sense to cut back the very agency set-up to promote the learning and skills agenda? Perhaps this is a question that our MPs and local politicians should be asking of Ruth Kelly at the Department for Education and Skills, and Alan Johnson at the Department for Trade and Industry.

Only time will tell if the LSC’s Agenda for Change reforms bring the benefits promised by Mark Haysom, but by then, it might just be too late to benefit Londonn based businesses and learners!

Until next time happy learning!

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