Our report examines how changing government policies have affected the skills landscape

13 October 2014 / Be the first to comment


Constant change over the past three decades has damaged the UK’s skill system, according to a major new report published today by the City & Guilds Group. 

Sense & Instability: three decades of skills and employment policy, scrutinises the policies of successive administrations on skills and employment. 

The report draws on insight from senior civil servants and experts in the skills and employment industry. It has broad political, employer and sector support, including Lord Adonis, the CBI, the Association of Colleges (AoC), the 157 Group, TUI UK and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP). 

With less than eight months to go until the election, City & Guilds now challenges all parties to address the report’s main recommendations:

  • Better long-term planning for skills policy that is linked to long-term economic forecasts 
  • Greater coherence between central government policymaking and local implementation 
  • Greater scrutiny of changes to skills policy to deliver better taxpayer value for money 
  • Better checks and balances to remove the risk of politics influencing policy decisions. 

Chairman of City & Guilds, Sir John Armitt, said: 

‘They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It would be madness to ignore the evidence of three decades of skills and employment policy – yet our politicians have failed to learn from the past. This report is a wake-up call to all policymakers. I urge all parties – irrespective of political colours or ideology – to look and learn.’   

Lord Adonis, Shadow Infrastructure Minister, said: 

’Everyone responsible for policymaking and implementation must continue to challenge and improve the system. This report rightly highlights the need for better checks and balances on policy making so that where there is an intervention by Government, or a change of direction, it is grounded in a strong evidence base that takes into consideration the lessons of the recent past. I hope that this paper begins a debate that is long overdue.’   

The report reveals some startling facts:  

  • There have been 61 Secretaries of State responsible for skills and employment policy in the last three decades (compared with 18 for schools policy and 16 for higher education) 
  • Between them they produced 13 major Acts of Parliament
  • The policy area has flipped between departments or been shared with multiple departments no fewer than 10 times since the 1980s 
  • Consistent churn has created a collective amnesia and growing lack of organisational memory at political and official levels. 

Sustained disruption in the system, from machinery of Government change and Ministerial reshuffles, to low level policy ‘tinkering’ and wholesale system-wide change, has consistently and often negatively impacted implementation in key areas. The report comes as the UK faces a major skills

Commenting on the report, Mikki Draggoo, Head of Corporate Relations at the City & Guilds Group said:   

‘We’ve seen politicians from every party making pledges about what they will do to close the UK’s skills gap. But a successful system is too important to sacrifice for a headline that will be recycled as yesterday’s news. The best action politicians can take to help employers get the skills they need is to think carefully before taking action. Stable, long-term planning is the key to success here. Learning from past successes and mistakes and giving new policies a chance to mature will yield much better, long-lasting results – and ultimately sustainable economic growth.’    

Commenting on the report, Neil Carberry, CBI Director for Employment & Skillssaid: 

‘The education and skills landscape is complex, with an array of new initiatives. This report from City & Guilds is a welcome and much-needed call for clarity and coherence, and should be used to kick start an era of policy stability in skills provision, with a real focus on putting the needs of our economy at the heart of vocational learning.’    

Supporting comments:

Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, Executive Director of 157 Group, said:

‘Much of this report echoes what we are saying as 157 Group and in our own narrative on FE Colleges. It is robustly evidenced and well-written. What is needed now is a set of agreed values and outcomes for education as a whole, based on a clear values, philosophies and policies that are clearly articulated and shared.’

Stewart Segal, Chief Executive Officer of AELP and Councillor of the City and Guilds of London Institute added:

‘There is still a big decision to make around whether local programmes get the budgets, or whether they are seen as influencers of policy and delivery. Do we believe in a national policy that ensures transparency and avoids reinventing the wheel or expensive contracting? Or do we believe budgets should be devolved?’

Martin Doel, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges, said: 

‘This is a really valuable paper that deserves to be read by anyone concerned with making and implementing skills and vocational education policy. As anyone reading this report will see, there has been substantial repeated tinkering with the system; it’s the first time I have personally seen the history of the changes written down in one, single place.’

 Download the full report (PDF)

Research in pictures: our infographic looks at the changing skills policy timeline

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