Skills for Jobs White Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:19 pm on 21st January 2021.

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Photo of Gavin Williamson Gavin Williamson The Secretary of State for Education 1:19 pm, 21st January 2021

The hon. Lady raises a number of important points. I almost had the impression that she might even want to work together on a common cause, but we did not quite get to that point.

We recognise that we want to invest more in our further education estate. That is why we have put forward the £1.5 billion capital programme. We recognise that we want to put more into skills for all young people, and for people of all ages who recognise that they need to gain new skills to advance their prospects or enter a different place of work. That is why we put £2.5 billion behind the national skills fund. We recognise that we need to invest more in our colleges. That is why we have had record rises in 16-to-19 funding, not only last year but this year. We want to continue to work with the sector to strengthen it.

I certainly take on board a number of the challenges the hon. Lady throws down. I think there is a real appetite on both sides of the House to ensure that not just young people but people of every age have the flexibility to pick up the new skills required in such a rapidly changing economy. We always want to bring measures forward much faster than we can, and I am always happy to work with her to ensure that any changes we bring forward in this House have the enthusiastic support of Opposition. I note the Labour Deputy Chief Whip, Sir Alan Campbell, is in his place; I am sure he would be happy to facilitate that.

The measures will recast the post-16 education landscape. This is not about taking away from one to give to another; it is about making sure that all young people, whatever their choice, have a good choice. Our colleges are some of the greatest institutions in this country. They have such deep links with and roots in local communities, because so often they were forged out of those local communities by local businesses to satisfy local needs. We aim to bring those colleges back to the founding principles of further education and of their creation.

We want to deliver a revolution and reform of our college sector and our technical and vocational sector. Young people can achieve so much by having higher technical qualifications. For far too long, it has been felt that there is only one choice: to go to university. Actually, so often, taking a different route gives so much more to young people. We need to make sure that that message is out there. By taking it out there and making sure that colleges have the ability and support to deliver, we will literally change the future of hundreds of thousands of young lives, and the course of the lives of so many other people who need new skills to prosper and take on the new challenges they face.