We all anticipate the appoint of a new Skills Minister with some trepidation! Who is it going to be? Do they have any background in FE? Politically are they on their way up or down!? Well from my viewpoint Anne Milton has made a very positive start. Her very first speech at the recent AELP Conference revealed that she is determined to sort out some of the often-farcical mistakes of the last few months. In her first few days she has:
- extended AEB allocations for three months
- brought forward the growth requests process for non-levy apprenticeship providers
- released the guidance for off job training
- made a decision to re-run of the non-levy apprenticeship procurement process.
She seems to have a positive grasp of the agenda, and whilst a number of these decisions were perhaps just waiting for her appointment, she has nonetheless, made them; something that her predecessors were not always willing to do.
So in my view she has made a good start. I really hope for the sake of the sector that she keeps this up. I believe that Matt Hancock was the last effective Skills Minister that we had. Sadly, an often-perceived inability to understand complex issues, and make correspondingly difficult decisions, has been the hallmark of those who followed him. This has resulted not only in delays, but also, in real negative outcomes for the sector and learners.
Whilst having a strong Skills Minister is always important for the sector, I believe that it is especially vital now. I say this for three main reasons.
Firstly, we live in politically uncertain times following the General Election result and Brexit. There are no doubt, hitherto unknown issues that will flow from both, that will require someone who is brave and decisive to ensure that on the one-hand the sector benefits and on the other, it does not suffer. For example, there are many pressures on the government to relax some of the ‘austerity’ measures currently in place. FE could be a soft-touch target to recoup some of those additional costs.
Secondly the DfE and ESFA need to be responsible to a decisive Minister. In my view given some of the poor decisions of the last twelve months, they currently lack effective leadership. I have articulated elsewhere my view regarding the current leadership’s obsession with process, rather than outcome. Hopefully Anne Milton will have clear goals in mind in guiding her officials. I hope that she is quite ‘hands-on’. Some civil servants will not like that, but I am convinced that we need it at the moment.
Thirdly the size of the agenda that she faces is enormous. Not only do we have all the activity surrounding apprenticeship reform, 3 million (or not!), Levy, Frameworks to Standards, not to mention end-point assessment, but we also have T levels, and an Area Review programme that seems itself to be in crisis. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but one that on its own will keep the new Minister occupied for a considerable time at least!
So, well done Minister for your first few days in office. You seem to have gained the support and hopes of many, in what is a pretty despondent sector at the moment. I wish you well in the difficult task that you have ahead.