The budget must contain policies to boost adult learning and trainingby Claire Ainsley / March 4, 2020 / Leave a comment
Proponents of regional investment are drawn to metaphors of latent potential springing to life, citizens no longer held back. Whether it’s the Northern Powerhouse or the Midlands Engine, the promise is new wealth resulting from greater investment and powers. Every government has tried to use the levers of the state to encourage higher rates of growth outside of London and the south east. New Labour opted to relocate public sector jobs to compensate for a lack of private sector investment. The coalition government focussed on increasing the economic momentum of Manchester and encouraging others to learn the lessons from that city’s reinvention over the past 20 years.
The instinct of Boris Johnson’s government is to foster a scattering of tech hubs: in effect the UK equivalents of Raleigh, Pittsburgh, Ann Arbor and other midwestern cities which have successfully reinvented themselves as start-up economies. Whether or not this extends all the way to creating an “MIT of the north,” in the budget we are likely to see the first steps towards more science funding for research projects outside the Golden Triangle of universities in Cambridge, London and Oxford, and a continued focus on transport and digital connectivity to support places which have been held back from economic revival.
It is right that the government should concentrate much of its spending and regulatory firepower on creating growth centres that will benefit every region. But the private sector will only follow public money if there is a skilled workforce on which new supply chains and allied industries can depend. A more effective system for delivering vocational and entrepreneurial skills will be crucial, both for the young and their parents, who may need to change industries as technology renders types of work or patterns of trade redundant. Putting this system in place is easier said than done, but contrast the amount of thought, effort and money that has gone into narrowing the school attainment gap or boosting universities. An equivalent sense of mission must now be adopted in relation to adult skills, with money and a shift of mindset both necessary.
Specifically, to upskill the 8.5m workers whose only qualifications are level two or below—the group most at risk of being stuck in low-paid work and the poverty that…