Irresistible Things 

Irresistible Things —This Month in Parliament

This article joins together two others in this issue, on the one hand the editorial and the question ‘how will you pay for it’, and on the other hand the series on ‘What shall I do next?’ on youth employment.

It refers to the 2021 Lords Youth Unemployment Committee Debates and Report, where the question of funding came up repeatedly.  There is a political decision to put all the money into university students, hard done by as they feel with the loans round their necks, and immensely less for the other 50% of young people.  They are left with patchy and insufficient provision.  Whereas their peers have the UCAS (University and Colleges Admission Service) to help them find their way into higher education, those going into Further Education or apprenticeships have no equivalent service.

Whereas students are funded by the government (via loans), there are no equivalent sources of funding, which deprives at the same time potential students and the colleges themselves. 

Kenneth Clarke and Kenneth Baker, members of the Committee, are both very active and eloquent on these topics.  What do they think about funding?  

Here is Ken Clarke (actually during the Skills and post 16 education debate):

“On the questions of expenditure that we have been asking, it is certainly the case that noble Lords kept referring to my being a former Chancellor. I am also a former Minister of Employment and Secretary of State for Education. As a former Chancellor, I am quite traditional; I am fiscally responsible—a bit of a fiscal hawk, sometimes—but I do think there are two subjects on which it is unavoidable for the present Government to spend more money. That means I would probably be at least as hawkish as the present Chancellor in resisting all the other lobbies which are inevitably piling in as the atmosphere of free money prevails. Social care and skills training—filling the skills gap—are irresistible things to which we must devote more resources.”

So Ken Clarke, former Chancellor, is saying that money is available.

Money is available for ‘irresistible things’.

The Treasury finds other things irresistible.  It is a political choice, what you find irresistible.  

The 2020 lockdown was particularly harmful for young people stuck in unsatisfactory housing with little to do and few resources.  The government had a grand gesture and appointed an Education Recovery Commissioner, Kevan Collins, who set about a costed programme.  “But about a month ago at one of the meetings, he was asked to leave the room, according to one source. “Suddenly the Treasury were not playing ball. They thought it was all too much.”” (Guardian 2/6/21)

The Treasury made sure that less than 10% of his programme was financed.  Kevan Collins resigned.  It may be another instance where Boris Johnson’s spending plans are countered by the Treasury:

There was 

 “a row with the Treasury over the funding after Tes revealed that the new announcement represents only a fraction of the £15 billion that the Department for Education and Downing Street had been hoping to secure from the Treasury and does not include extending the school day, which was expected to be central to the plans.”  (TES 2/6/21)

Some of the Committee’s guidelines to tackle youth unemployment:

. the National Curriculum should take into account the needs of society and of industry.  As one of the witnesses questioned by the Committee on 23 March, Sope Otulana, said:

[There is] potential for DfE to think about industrial strategy when developing the curriculum, but there is also an opportunity for industry to recognise its role in supporting future workers in developing skills and influencing curricula. That cross-government and cross-sector dialogue is part of getting schools to where they need to be to develop young people with the skills they will need for the future of work. The weight of it should not rest solely on educators. 

The Report says:

The Government must develop a long-term national plan for identifying, measuring and addressing skills gaps and shortages with a focus on anticipating and meeting the needs of emerging and growth sectors such as the digital and green economy.

. Reform the apprenticeship levy.  At the moment firms get government money for managers’ MBAs.  Tesco admitted only 20% of their ‘apprenticeships’ went to people under 25.

. A new careers advice service.  It is needed, as Lord Davies said: ‘to bridge a gap that successive generations of young people have had to cope with: coming out from school with little idea of what the world of work demands or even, for that matter, what it offers.

. Better funding for the non university sector.  Another witness on the same day, Sam Windett, said:  ‘The one partner you mentioned that has not stepped forward quite as much is the Treasury. A lot of these partnerships formed for the benefit of young people are based on love, but not a lot are based on funding and resourcing. That is one partner that could come to the table a bit more. 

In the last Budget [pre march 21], there was very little focus on young people, which was really disappointing. 

To which lord Davies replied:  ‘I notice that there is a codicil constantly attached to every response, which is, “We think the Treasury is involved in this”. By heavens, the Treasury has to be, if we are to make these schemes a success.’ 

. The Government must appoint an independent Young People’s Commissioner for youth aged 16 to 24 with specific reference to youth unemployment, education and skills, including the new Youth Hubs. 

The summary of the report can be read at:

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