The policies of the Candidates for PM depend on improving skills to deliver productivity.

Simply cutting taxes will not break the spiral of stagflation without rapid action to improve the productivity of the UK population as a whole, not just those currently in work, by sorting out:

  • Right to Work” Checks – which do not allow 1 in 5 to “prove” their right to work.
  • IR35 which cuts the skilled workforce (from HGV drivers to IT Consultants) while imposing a 40% overhead on those left.
  • Pension Regimes (e.g. NHS) which promote premature retirement and penalise (negative pay net of pension) those who wish to continue working: full or part-time.
  • Education and Training programmes which spend student’s time and money on that which will not make them more employable, now or in the future.

At first sight the NAO Report on Developing Workforce Skills appears to be a critique of the failure of FE policy over the past decade. But, (like the studies used to plan the skills policies inherited from the Labour Government as well as the more recent studies and sources it cites), the team which produced the NAO report has missed the transition of most employer-funded training to short earn-while-learn modules – mixing the use of hands-on experiential learning materials with supervised work experience.

Nadhim Zahawi did not miss this in his speech on Making the British Dream Come True just before he became Chancellor. He referred to the need to focus on Life learning Accounts which could be used to acquire new skills by mixing and matching micro-modules when needed. Hopefully, if he fails to keep his job as Chancellor under the new he will return to DfE to finish the job he has started – unlike those who started the last attempt to turn round the Titanic of UK FE/HE/Skills policy.

UK Skills Policy took its last turn towards the icebergs in 2002. Two hours after John Healey announced the funding for the first of the Sector Skills Councils announced in “Developing workforce skills: piloting a new approach” he was reshuffled. The first pilot sector skills council (that for digital skills) was to have moved rapidly to build on the success of the Millennium Bugbusters programme. Faced by a skills crisis, Treasury had imposed genuine industry-led content planning, supplier selection and quality control before passing the scheme (hands-on intensive packaged, experiential learning short courses, supervised by instructors with technical/professional experience) to officials for procurement implementation. Almost none of the existing training providers (including FE colleges and Universities) could meet the critieria without entering into agreements with commercial training providers for use of staff, equipment and packaged materials.

But the reshuffle gave breathing space to those threatened, not just embarrassed, by the success of the bugbusters programme (now airbrushed out of history).

There was 18 months delay as officials emasculated the new Sector Skills Councils and transferred control over funding and accreditation back to their Haldane style hierarchies of academic subject experts sitting in consultative committees. That led the thousand (or less) large employers who recruit most UK trainees to quietly tiptoe away and focus on the processes for importing skills from the rest of the EU or India rather than spend time wrestling with officials and funding agencies to improve the UK pipeline.

One consequence was that in 2006 the Labour Government introduced legislation (the Asylum Immigration and Nationality Act) to control immigration, the high tech employers secured exemptions which had the practical effect of making it easier for employers (in general) to recruit those with EU identity cards or Immigration Visas than residents without a current UK Passport. It was this, plus subsequent attempts to “clarify” the situation which lay behind the Windrush Scandal and the Right to Work time bomb.

The current situation is that those without a current passport (some-where over 20% of UK citizens, more in those areas most in need of levelling up) will be unable (after the endo of September) to “prove” their right to work or rent – unless the Home Secretary uses the next month to instruct her officials produce succinct legislation (for implementation before the Party conference season) to enable the new Digital Identity Document Validation Technology Providers to use processes akin to those for issuing passports.  The main complicating factor is the need to ignore the add-on bells and whistles wanted by those who want to use the opportunity to progress something much more complex, akin to their wet dreams over national digital identities.

To be continued tomorrow after the next round of the leadership election.

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