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Regional mayors’ skills summit calls for further devolution

England’s directly-elected regional mayors will meet in Liverpool today, at the invitation of Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor for the Liverpool City Region. The meeting builds on the success of two previous meetings in London and Birmingham. At the summit, all eight mayors – four Conservative and four Labour - will call on the government for greater devolution of powers and funding over skills. 

All eight have signed up to a joint statement calling for further reforms to the skills system, including more control over Apprenticeship Levy funds to boost skills in their areas.

Present at the meeting will be Tim Bowles, West of England; Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester; Sadiq Khan, London; Ben Houchen, Tees Valley; Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region; Andy Street, West Midlands; James Palmer, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, and Dan Jarvis, Sheffield City Region, are unable to attend but signed the joint statement.

All of the mayors present will attend the International Festival of Business, currently taking place in Liverpool, and supported by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. The morning will see a panel discussion featuring a number of the mayors, while Sadiq Khan will address the Festival in the afternoon, followed by an “in conversation” session with Steve Rotheram.

A focus for discussions will be the government’s flagship Apprenticeship Levy, which is intended to fund new apprenticeships through a levy of 0.5% of their paybill for employers with salary costs of more than £3 million per year.  Funding can then be drawn down by employers to pay for apprenticeships. Since the levy was introduced new apprenticeship starts have dropped by 24%, and businesses are finding it difficult to provide the apprenticeships our regions need.

The metro mayors agreed the following joint statement:

As the UK approaches Brexit it is of vital importance for our future growth and prosperity that businesses have access to a workforce with the range of skills necessary to be competitive in the modern global economy.

As Mayors representing every corner of England we know we would be letting our residents down if we failed to provide them with the opportunities to gain the skills and experience they need to fulfil their potential.  

Between the eight of us we account for nearly 42 per cent of all British growth (GVA). We know our local economies and the needs of the labour market in our areas and we are committed to developing innovative ideas to create a step change in skills and training provision. 

We recognise the government’s efforts to reform the skills system and applaud its ambition to see three million apprenticeships by 2020. However, the reality is that the number of apprenticeship starts has dropped sharply, with the number of starts falling by 24% since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy last year.

With that in mind, we call on the government to give us the flexibility we need to address these issues, specifically by granting city regions control of the Apprenticeship Levy funding which levy payers do not spend, and by further devolving control of 16-19 skills policy.

We also call on the government to provide additional funding for us to ensure that there are enough quality providers in our city regions, and to drive the quality of apprenticeships.

If government allow us these flexibilities and worked with our city regions, we would ensure that it is used to deliver the gold-standard apprenticeships and skills training that our residents, employers, and the country as a whole, so desperately need.

We call on the skills minister to meet with us to discuss how we can work together to drive apprenticeships and technical education in our regions.

Tim Bowles (West of England)
Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester)
Sadiq Khan (London)
Ben Houchen (Tees Valley)
Dan Jarvis (Sheffield City Region)
James Palmer (Peterborough and Cambridgeshire)
Steve Rotheram (Liverpool City Region)
Andy Street (West Midlands). 

Quotes from the mayors: 

The Mayor of the West of England, Tim Bowles, said:

“Devolution is delivering and the government can already see the benefits. We must continue to build on that success and extra powers would help us accelerate the pace of change. People need the right skills to succeed and we’re best placed to help our regions fulfil their potential.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said:

“With the Whitehall machine creaking under the strain of Brexit it’s time that ministers gave devolved regions the chance to get on.  We are all primed and ready to make decisions on domestic issues that will help ensure a better future for our areas and a smoother Brexit process for the whole country. As we leave the EU we must make sure that people have the right skills to get the jobs that will power our economy. Further devolution to allow a less fragmented post-16 skills system with clear and attractive choices for young people, including apprenticeships and T-Levels, would go a long way to connecting residents and businesses with the growth of Greater Manchester.

“The government could show its commitment to devolution right now by giving us the chance to utilise the Apprenticeship Levy underspend.  This money, as part of a wider devolution package, could prove vital in helping both our young people and us to achieve our aims. It is clear that further devolution is the key to making a post-Brexit future a success.”

Mayor Ben Houchen, Tees Valley, 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.”

Mayor Dan Jarvis, Sheffield City Region, said:

“I am joining with the other metro mayors from across the country in challenging the government to give greater local control over the skills system. It will only be through empowering local areas that we will unlock the potential of our young people and tackle the challenges that our businesses face in recruiting.”

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 James Palmer, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said:

“If mayors are to successfully help address this nation’s productivity shortfall and boost the economy, they need fuller access to all of the tools at their disposal, of which skills is a key component. The Department for Education needs to take off the handbrake and understand that mayors are best placed to pinpoint funding into training and apprenticeships that will offer the best possible outcomes for young people, while also satisfying the needs of the business community. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is a real economic success story, contributing a net £5 billion to the Treasury annually, but we have clear skills challenges that need addressing if that trend is to continue. I call on the government to devolve more powers to mayors so they can act more robustly on skills shortages and give this country the economic shot in the arm that is so needed as Brexit approaches.”

Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region, said:

“A shortage of the right skills is shackling our economy nationally.  We are proving that devolution works, by enabling us to make the right decisions for our areas.  By trusting us to make decisions locally on skills the Government can give a practical boost to UK plc as a whole.”

Mayor Andy Street, West Midlands, 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.”

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