Capital City College Group at the Labour Party Conference

On Monday 26 September, Capital City College Group (CCCG) hosted a breakfast event at the Labour Party Conference in partnership with the London business advocacy group BusinessLDN (previously London First). The event brought together political and business leaders, and education providers, for a discussion on how the levelling-up agenda can tackle the UK’s skills shortages.

CCCG’s Executive Principal Kurt Hintz, and Vice Principal for The College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) Robin Hindley, represented the group at the meeting, where we invited MPs, local councillors and council leaders, and business representatives from across the country, to share their experiences and recommendations on how we can help sort the UK’s skills crisis.

Labour Party Conference – what is it? And why were we there?

All the leading political parties in the UK hold an annual conference, bringing together party members, politicians and businesses alike to discuss party priorities, policy positions and other important topics. They are an excellent opportunity for organisations like CCCG to raise awareness of important issues, influence politicians with our key policy ‘asks’, and connect with industry colleagues and develop new sector relationships.

This year Labour returned to Liverpool, with a packed timetable of events, meetings and speeches, from Sunday 25 to Wednesday 28 September 2022. We held our breakfast event on Monday 25 September, during the first ‘Business’ day of the conference, at the historic Albert Dock.

The event

John Dickie, BusinessLDN’s Chief Executive, chaired the event. BusinessLDN work with businesses across the capital and have recently won the bid to run Greater London’s Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP) which will collaborate with employers, training and education providers, and local stakeholders to tackle London’s skills shortages. We will be playing a key role in the LSIP’s work.

Kurt Hintz led the discussion and explained the importance of further education to levelling up and skills. He highlighted three key priorities to give further education colleges the best opportunity to deliver the highest quality skills training for their students:

  1. Providing free courses for adults at Level 4 and 5;
  2. Devolving the adult education and skills budget; and
  3. Increasing the flexibility of the Apprenticeship Levy.

Firstly, cost is a huge barrier to adults in taking on education. Many earn less than the London living wage, so they have no spare money to spend on gaining qualifications. But as Kurt explained during the discussion, when we removed this barrier and offered free qualifications up to Level 3 for adults in 2014, we saw an increase of 30% in the number of adult learners the following year and each year after that.

We’re pleased that Government funding for adult courses up to level 3 has caught up with our idea, and these courses are now free to most people, but we would like the Government to go further and enable adults who want to study for Level 4 and 5 skills-based qualifications – including professional qualifications like those offered by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) – to have their education free as well. Doing this will enable many more adults to up-skill, which can only be a good thing for people and for the wider economy.

Secondly, devolving the adult skills budget (currently only London and the mayoral combined authorities, including West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Liverpool, enjoy this freedom) will give local areas more freedom in how they prioritise their skills spending. For example, the flexibility given to CCCG by the Greater London Authority (GLA) on some of our adult skills budget has been key to providing our students with the highest quality training, based on demand and industry need. This sort of working relationship is good practice for other parts of the country.

And thirdly, Kurt spoke about the worrying drop in apprenticeship starts since the COVID-19 pandemic, identifying Small-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as struggling the most to take on apprentices. He recommended increasing the flexibility of the apprenticeship levy by allowing unspent levy money to cover the cost of wages for employees during the first year of apprenticeships.

Other guests offered interesting contributions to the discussions. Richard Bonner, Northern Cities Executive at Arcadis, spoke on the huge deficit in skills in the construction industry, and the mismatch between industry requirements and what training colleges are providing. CCCG consider links with employers as critical to offering our students the best possible provision in their industry.

One example is CONEL’s partnership Ardmore Construction – one of the largest family-owned construction groups in the UK – to develop the London Welding Academy. CONEL worked with Ardmore to develop a Welding Level 3 Apprenticeship training programme at the college to help fill the skills gap exacerbated by COVID-19 and Brexit. CONEL created space for the programme and Ardmore provided the high-quality welding equipment.

Henri Murison, CEO of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), emphasised the need to spend money on skills more efficiently and effectively before throwing more money at a system which is already failing to deliver; Josie Cluer, Partner at EY, called attention to the need to fix the skills shortage before we can level up, as people are lacking the skills required to fill current vacancies.

In addition, the Mayor of Newham, Rokshana Fiaz, highlighted that even in London – which in levelling-up terms is economically thriving – there are huge pockets of crippling poverty and inequality.

The need for levelling-up within London is something our Chief Executive Roy O’Shaughnessy, commented on back in February, when the Government released their long awaited Levelling-Up White Paper. London as a region has the highest poverty rates compared to any other region in the UK, with 27% of all residents living in poverty – at CCCG around 67% of our students are in the bottom three bands of social deprivation – this is why tackling the skills shortage and levelling-up our communities is central to the training and education we deliver.

On to the next Party Conference …

With the Labour Party Conference wrapping up today, we turn our attention to Birmingham where we will be heading next week for the Conservative Party Conference. There we will host a whole new set of guests to continue our discussions on Levelling-Up and skills.

Our political activity: a round-up

As one of the UK’s largest Further Education (FE) organisations and London’s largest FE college group, it’s important for Capital City College Group to work with politicians, and others in the education sector and in the wider economy. For example, MPs of all parties help shape public opinion and Ministers in Government make decisions that affect the funding of colleges and the lives of our staff and students – so meeting them and explaining to them the important work that we do, and asking them to consider changes to policy, is very valuable.

Over the last six months, we’ve built on the work we started last year – meeting MPs, hosting events and responding to consultations, as well as keeping up with the fast-changing post-16 education activity in Parliament. Here’s a summary of what we’ve been up to.

Back in November 2021, during Global Entrepreneurship Week, we hosted an event to celebrate the expansion of our innovative Visionnaires entrepreneurship programme. Visionnaires has already helped over 500 people start new businesses through its free programmes and earlier in 2021, we’d formed a community interest company with United Colleges Group, South Thames Colleges Group and NCG, to bring Visionnaires to eight more colleges around the country.

At the event, our guests heard from Small Business Minister Paul Scully, who said: “Visionnaires has already enabled innovative entrepreneurs to prosper through networking and support. These are initiatives that the Government strongly supports because being able to draw on the experience of others and connect with likeminded people is so invaluable whether businesses are starting up or scaling up. Projects like Visionnaires play a crucial role in complementing the support that’s given by the Government.”

2022 started on a high for us, as in January we were told by the Greater London Authority that the Group had been successful in its bids to run four new Mayor of London Academy Hubs. The Academies will fast-track Londoners into work by giving them the skills they need to drive the capital’s economic recovery from the COVID pandemic. CCCG won £1.5 million to run hubs in Digital, Hospitality, Creative, and Green industries after successful bids to the Mayor’s Academies Programme.

In February, during National Apprenticeships Week we welcomed Skills Minister Alex Burghart MP to our construction and engineering conference at our Westminster Kingsway College’s Victoria Centre. Mr Burghart mingled with employers and apprentices, before making a speech to the group where he spoke of the importance of apprenticeships to the current skills market.

Also during National Apprenticeships Week, the MP for Enfield North, Feryal Clark, visited CONEL’s Enfield Centre, where she had a tour of our facilities and met staff and apprentices on our engineering and construction provision. Feryal thoroughly enjoyed the visit and said: “Apprenticeships can make a real difference to young people’s future, and I’m delighted we have such a great provider with brilliant apprentices here in Enfield North.”

We’re doing a lot of innovative and important work with construction and engineering employers in Enfield and Feryal was very interested in how we are helping her constituents into great careers. She also asked us what she can do to help the Further Education sector in Parliament, and so we hope to continue working with her on this in the future.

February also saw the publication of the Government’s long-awaited Levelling-up White Paper. At the time, our Chief Executive Roy O’Shaughnessy commented on the White Paper’s failure to recognise London’s levelling-up needs. He said: “London is home to around 2.5 million disadvantaged people and a greater proportion of its population are poor than that of any other UK region. For example, some 67 per cent of our students are in the bottom three bands of social deprivation, but not one of the 55 new Education Investment Areas will be in the capital.”

Roy also urged the Government to acknowledge the vital role that FE colleges can play in upskilling the UK’s workforce, and called for the sector to have a sustainable and longer-term funding settlement, to enable colleges to support the Government’s levelling-up plans.

In March, during Food Waste Action Week, Jo Churchill, the Minister for Agri-Innovation and Climate Adaption, visited WestKing’s Victoria Centre, where she found out about what the college’s School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts is doing to tackle food waste. At the event – organised by the charity WRAP – our culinary students, led by Culinary Arts Lecturer Vince Kelly, treated the Minister and guests to a menu of delicious food made from some of the most commonly wasted foods in the home. The Minister was delighted with the food and enjoyed talking with our students about their experiences at WestKing.

We have also been busy keeping up with the changes to post-16 qualifications in parliament.

In January we briefed our local MPs on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, along with other MPs with an interest in education. In the briefing we highlighted important areas of interest for the CCCG and what MPs can do to help. Once parliamentary ping-pong concluded (where the Bill was passed between the House of Commons and the House of Lords until all amendments were agreed to) the Bill received Royal Assent and became the Skills and Post-16 Education Act on the 28April 2022. 

The last six months have also seen significant Government proposals to change the post-16 qualification landscape, so we have responded to the House of Commons Education Committee inquiries into the future of post-16 education and careers information, advice and guidance; as well as a Department for Education (DfE) consultation on review of level 2 and below qualifications.

Our colleges also run a number of access and degree-level courses, and so we responded to several consultations on proposed changes to Higher Education, including changes to student loans through the Lifelong Loan Entitlement and the Higher education policy statement and reform, and Office for Students (OfS) consultations on a new approach to regulating student outcomes and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

The work of analysing these consultations (which often run to over 100 pages each) and then writing our response, is complicated and time-consuming, but it’s important that our voice – and the voices of our students – are heard by those in power.

What next?

We are working with our staff and students on our response to the Government’s consultation on the SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) Green Paper, right support, right place, right time. Some 3,239 students (or 10.8% of our students) have some form of learning difficulty – including 595 who have an Educational Health and Care Plan (EHCP), meaning that they must have additional support to meet their educational, health and social needs and the proposals in the SEND Green Paper (to change both the SEND and alternative provision systems) will affect them directly.

Throughout the rest of the year, we will continue to engage with our local MPs and other important political figures and keep up to date with parliamentary activity.

If you would like to find out more about our political activity or would like to work with us, please contact Neil Cox, Head of Policy and Communications at neil.cox@capitalccg.ac.uk