Queen’s Speech: ‘flexible loans’ for skills development to be launched

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A skills ‘revolution’ for adults, including flexible loans for further and higher education, has been promised in the Queen’s Speech today, but there was no mention of an employment bill.

The Queen revealed plans for the government’s “lifetime skills guarantee”, which was first mooted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last September.

The scheme will allow all adults to get a “flexible loan” from the government for part- or full-time higher education and training at a university or college, which can be used at “any point in their lives”. It can be used for the equivalent of four years’ study in academic and technical education, for modules or full qualifications.

Employers will have a statutory role in planning publicly-funded training programmes with education providers through a “Skills Accelerator” programme. They will be urged to work together to meet local skills needs, particularly in areas including construction, digital, clean energy and manufacturing.

The education secretary will be given more powers to intervene in colleges that fail to meet local needs, and to direct structural change to ensure improvements are made.

The speech is written by government ministers but delivered by the Queen to mark the state opening of parliament. It outlines the forthcoming legislation the government intends to introduce. The Skills and Post-16 Education Bill will be introduced on 18 May.

The Queen said the priority of the government is to “level up” the UK, supporting jobs and growth, and proposals will be brought forward to create jobs and support employment regulation. However, there was no further mention of this, nor the expected Employment Bill, which is set to bring many of the measures outlined in the government’s Good Work Plan into law.

The government will invest in new green industries, which will result in job creation, the Queen said.

There will be the “biggest increase in spending on the armed forces in 30 years” and employers of veterans will enjoy national insurance contribution relief.

Ahead of the speech, Johnson said: “These new laws are the rocket fuel that we need to level up this country and ensure equal opportunities for all. We know that having the right skills and training is the route to better, well-paid jobs.

“I’m revolutionising the system so we can move past the outdated notion that there is only one route up the career ladder, and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to retrain or upskill at any point in their lives.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “As we rebuild from the pandemic, we’ve put reforming post-16 education and skills at the heart of our plans to build back better, and as education secretary I have championed the often forgotten 50 per cent of young people who don’t go to university.

“Through legislation, our vision is to transform the sector and expand opportunity right across the country, so that more people can get the skills they need to get good jobs.”

The government said that universities and colleges should be far more accessible to adults, allowing them to change careers and upskill regularly.

New policies and funding programmes are already in place to ensure adults have greater access to local free courses. Intensive “bootcamps”, which  offer training in areas such as coding and “green” retrofitting in construction, have already trained 3,000 people and a further 14,000 have signed up to attend courses this year.

The government is continuing to promote apprenticeships among employers, offering them a £3,000 cash incentive for each apprentice they take on until the end of September.

Reaction

Stefan Martin, partner at Hogan Lovells, said the absence of any mention of an employment bill was noticeable.

“From an employment law perspective, this is an opportunity missed as the Queen’s speech contains no employment bill. It is surprising that the previous commitments to make flexible working the default and introduce carers’ leave do not make an appearance, particularly given the ‘build back better’ agenda,” he said.

“We were also hoping that the government would use this opportunity to address the linked issues of employment status and working time. At present, the lack of clarity in this area is causing uncertainty for both platform businesses and those working in them. This has resulted in significant litigation and confusion as to who is a worker and what constitutes working time. Introducing legislation and clear guidance would help create a more level playing field and would benefit both platform businesses and those working in them, making the UK a more attractive place to do business.”

Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary for legal and politics, said: “Working people will be bitterly disappointed that the prime minister has failed to use this opportunity to outlaw fire and rehire.

“Instead of desperately needed protection from what the government itself calls a bully boy practice, all workers will get from Boris Johnson’s government are warm words.

“But with one in 10 working people being told take a massive pay cut or take a hike, we will keep hounding the Tories on this until they act to end fire and rehire.”

Co-op group CEO Steve Murrells said: “Talent is spread throughout every community in the UK, but opportunity is not. For Britain to prosper, we need to tackle inequalities so that everyone, particularly young people, can access the right skills and training to secure the right job, regardless of their background. It’s great to see the government making strides here today.

“It’s clear that skills initiatives must reflect needs at a local, and even community level. Making the skills agenda work will require true co-operation between government, local employers and education providers to ensure that young people develop skills that add value to local businesses, and therefore their local economy. Successfully embedding a framework where this can happen will be key to our national success.”

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