Further education colleges and skills in Greater Manchester

Powers devolved to Greater Manchester

Three of the published ‘devolution deals’ for Greater Manchester have included commitments to devolve elements of further education and skills. The first devolution deal, in November 2014, committed the Government to:

work with Greater Manchester directly to re-shape and re-structure the Further Education (FE) provision within Greater Manchester so that a new, forward looking FE system is in place by 2017;

The government and Greater Manchester’s goal is to improve the ability of the system to respond to labour market need and economic priorities. This recommissioning process will be led by GMCA and the government (BIS, DfE, SFA and the Education Funding Agency (EFA)), and will work collaboratively across Greater Manchester, reporting to Ministers and the GMCA. It will identify the future shape and funding (including pricing of adult skills budget courses) of FE provision in the Greater Manchester city region. Any change needs to be cost neutral. It will start from December 2014, and run throughout the 2015 Spending Review so that it can start to deliver a revised curriculum offer from 2017.[1]

The Library briefings, Devolution to local government in England and Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill 2015-16 [HL] provide more details on these deals.

Further education area–based reviews

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills is currently conducting area based reviews of post-16 education and training institutions. These reviews are intended to “enable a transition towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers, and more effective collaboration across institution types.”[2] The reviews are taking place in three waves – wave 1 which includes FE institutions in Greater Manchester- began in September 2015.

Library briefing CBP, 7357, Post-16 Area Reviews, 22 January 2016 gives background on FE area reviews. Information is also available on the BIS website at Reviewing post-16 education and training institutions: area reviews (waves 1, 2 and 3)

FE area-based review in Greater Manchester

An article in FE Week said that ‘the Greater Manchester local steering group, which will be chaired by chief executive of Trafford City Council Theresa Grant, will meet for the first time on September 21’.[3]

Minutes from the Economy Scrutiny Committee of Manchester City Council make the following assertion about the expected outcomes of the Greater Manchester area-based review:

The draft proposals essentially are to a number of new groupings in the FE sector:

a. A group in the North to comprise Bolton College, Bolton University and Bury College.

b. A group in the East of Stockport, Oldham and Tameside colleges.

c. A group in the Centre, West and South, which will be a broader group of organisations comprising of Trafford College, Novus (a charity helping hard to reach groups and supporting offenders), Total People (an award winning apprentice and training provider), MOL a leading provider of professional qualifications, and The Manchester College. It is important to note that it is not proposing a merger of Trafford and Manchester colleges. Rather a group of organisations with their own funding streams and income, operating together, with their own local accountability and boards. Supported through common group and shared services. Thus allowing all to be more efficient and sustainable, to remain locally accountable and to lead in improving quality whilst re investing in better services and facilities.

d. There are some FE colleges yet to declare.[4]

An article has suggested that the Greater Manchester area review has been delayed and will now report in June 2016:

The government is privately worried about the ongoing delays with the Greater Manchester area review – despite skills minister Nick Boles publicly claiming in January that he was more concerned about the quality of area review outcomes than timing.

According to leaked documents seen exclusively by FE Week, the review – which involves 21 colleges and sixth forms and was one of the first to be announced – is still barely two thirds of the way through, likely due to an extended four-month gap between steering group meetings.

Minutes from the most recent steering group meeting, on April 21, reveal the government’s concern over the ongoing delays.

Mike Keoghan, director of vocational education at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), warned the group that “the pace of the review in Greater Manchester was a cause for concern within BIS and the Department for Education (DfE)”.

He said it was “critical” that the steering group agreed a final set of recommendations at the next meeting, due to be held on May 25.

Theresa Grant, the chief executive of Trafford Council, who chairs the steering group, warned in her concluding remarks of the risk that the process “would lead to a fragmentation of the colleges in Greater Manchester”


A BIS spokesperson said the timescales for the Greater Manchester area review had been “rightly adjusted” to allow the steering group to carry out all its work.

The final steering group meeting is now scheduled for June.[5]

The article also states that that two mergers have so far been proposed:

One involves a link-up between Oldham, Stockport and Tameside Colleges, which could potentially also include Hopwood Hall College.

Bury College has already announced plans to merge with neighbouring University of Bolton, but the leaked minutes showed that Bolton College could also be joining them.

Adult Skills budgets

The devolution deal document published in March 2016, alongside the 2016 Budget, committed to devolving the Adult Skills budget to Greater Manchester as of 2018-19. This will be preceded by joint commissioning of the system, between Greater Manchester and the Government, in 2017-18:

This will replace the current system of funding by qualifications as providers will receive their total 19+ skills funding as a single block allocation. This new arrangement will allow the Combined Authority to agree with providers the mix and balance of provision that will be delivered in return for the block funding, and to define how success will be measured. Greater Manchester Combined Authority will at this stage hold joint accountability for the monitoring of provision against the outcome framework.[6]

This document also committed to further discussion on 16-18 vocational education and the Advanced Learner Loans system:

13. As agreed at Spending Review/Autumn 2015, and within the context of existing national 16-19 policy, funding and accountability framework and the progress and outcomes of the area review, the Department for Education, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority will explore how delivery of their respective responsibilities can contribute to aligning outcomes from 16-18 vocational education and commissioning of 19+ adult skills provision.

14. As also agreed at Spending Review/Autumn Statement 2015 the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority will examine how the Advanced Learner Loans system can best support more residents to progress to Level 3+, and better meet the needs of the Greater Manchester labour market.[7]

Both of these commitments are dependent upon the completion of the area-based review, and upon agreement between Greater Manchester and the Government regarding responsibility for financial risk if these responsibilities are devolved.

Skills policy in Greater Manchester is managed by the Greater Manchester Skills and Employment Partnership. This is made up of five of the ten members of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, together with a range of representatives from stakeholder organisations. The Greater Manchester Skills Analysis of 2015-16 states:

  • The SEP is a voluntary collaboration of employers, colleges, and training providers, funding agencies and local authorities that aims to maximise the contribution that skills funding can make to growing GM’s economy.

  • The partnership delivers the GM Combined Authority’s statutory duty around 16-19 participation, and ensures that skills delivery maximises economic growth.

  • The SEP is accountable to the GM Combined Authority and GM Local Enterprise Partnership and works with providers and employers to understand present and future growth, employment and skills needs.

  • The SEP will lead the GM Participation Strategy to support Local Authorities to strengthen the support that young people receive. The four key priorities are: Identification and tracking of those who are NEET and at risk of becoming NEET; Careers Education Information Advice and Guidance; ensuring an appropriate FE curriculum; and Maths and English progression at 16 and 18.

Skills gaps and vacancies in Greater Manchester


In 2015, the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area had the 10th highest rate (70%)[8]  of hard-to-fill vacancies that are due to a skills shortage amongst all thirty-nine LEPs in England. This rate was almost equal to the rate for England as a whole (69%).

Employers also reported that year that 19% of establishments in the Greater Manchester LEP had at least one vacancy and that 4% had a skills shortage vacancy.

‘Low number of applicants with the required skills’ was the first reason given by employers with hard-to-fill vacancies in their establishments: 37% of employers in Greater Manchester cited it as the main hurdle. This was also the most popular answer given by employers in England as a whole (37%).

Only a minority of all Greater Manchester employers with hard-to-fill vacancies increased the training given to their existing workforce or redefined existing jobs (7%). Most employers chose instead to increase advertising or recruitment spending (38%), or used new recruitment methods or channels (29%). Employers in England as a whole had a very similar response to this issue.

Skills shortages and vacancies in England and the Greater Manchester LEP*, 2015
    Greater Manchester LEP Rank England
Establishments that have at least one vacancy 19% 19 20%
Establishments that have at least one vacancy that is hard to fill 6% 35 8%
Establishments that have a skills shortage vacancy 4% 34 6%
Hard-to-fill vacancies that are skills shortage vacancies 70% 10 69%
Source: UKCES, Employer Skills Survey 2015, ‘LEP results data tables (standards)’
*LEP= Local Enterprise Partnership
For ranks, 1= highest number of vacancies amongst all LEPs; 36= lowest number of vacancies of amongst all LEPs.

Skills gaps

14% of all establishments in the Greater Manchester LEP reported a skills gap of any kind in 2015 – the same as the England average. Employers also said that 4% of their workforce was not fully proficient, compared with 5% nationally. The gaps were mostly concentrated amongst elementary staff (19%, same in England), sales and customer service staff (18%, 17% in England) and administrative/clerical staff (14%, same in England). In contrast, substantially fewer skills gaps were reported amongst professionals and managers.

The majority of employers (62-64%) both in Greater Manchester and in England said that these skills gaps were due to staff members being ‘new to the role’ or their training being ‘currently only partially completed’ – suggesting that employers found some of their workforce unprepared by previous training for the roles they were hired to do.

48% of employers in the Greater Manchester LEP who had skills gaps in their establishments said it had no impact on how their establishment performed. 35% said the same nationally. However, 37% (48% for England) also said that it had a minor impact. 15% said the impact was major (17% in England).

74% of employers with skills gaps in their establishment addressed this issue by increasing training activity or spending on training – 68% nationally.

Qualifications and underemployment

By contrast, in the Greater Manchester LEP, employers reported that 25% of staff were under-utilised (or underemployed) – meaning they had qualifications and/or skills that were more advanced than those required for their job.

Establishments in this locality also had at 35% the joint 6th highest share of over-qualified staff as a proportion of all establishments, just below England’s 38%.

The Greater Manchester LEP fared in line with the national average in terms of level of qualifications in the workforce.

41% of establishments in this area had fewer than 20% of their workforce with a level 4 qualification (equivalent to higher education), the 4th highest ranking amongst all LEPs.

In 22% of establishments, between 50 and 80% of the workforce had a qualification equivalent to a bachelor’s degree or a National Vocational Qualification 4 – the 4th highest ranking.

Number of staff with a level 4 qualification as a proportion of all staff* in England and the Greater Manchester LEP**, 2015
    Greater Manchester LEP Rank England
Fewer than 20% 41% 4 43%
20 to 49% 21% joint 8 19%
50 to 80% 22% 4 19%
More than 80% 13% joint 8 14%
Source: UKCES, Employer Skills Survey 2015, ‘LEP results data tables (standards)’
*LEP= Local Enterprise Partnership
For ranks, 1= lowest proportion of staff with level 4 qualification amongst all LEPs; 36= highest proportion of staff with level 4 qualification of amongst all LEPs.
**in all establishments    

Press coverage

FE Week, 10 June 2016

Depth of resistance to area review laid bare

FE Week, 3 June 2016

Unions oppose college and university merger

Times Education Supplement (TES), 1 June 2016

‘Flawed’ merger between college and university could put FE provision at risk, unions warn

Manchester Evening News, 27 May 2016


Manchester Evening News, 26 May 2016

Greater Manchester ‘super college’ merger plan as education chiefs battle £1.5bn shortfall

Manchester Evening News, 19 May 2016


FE Week, 18 April, 2016

Area review completion delays drag on as new six month target missed

FE Week, 21 March 2016

‘Unsustainable debt’ issues behind area review delays, says FE Commissioner

FE Week, 8 January 2016

Exclusive: Area reviews already behind schedule

FE Week, 1 December 2015

Ofsted boss Sir Michael aims annual report fire at skills gap armed with nearly 180 FE and skills inspection results

FE Week, 8 September 2015

Future of nearly 40 colleges in question as BIS and DfE reveals those facing area reviews

Guardian, 24 June 2015

Government must support lifelong learning if it wants to boost productivity

Manchester Evening News, 15 June 2016

LinkedIn teams up with Greater Manchester Combined Authority to tackle region’s skills shortage

Parliamentary questions and debate

Post-16 Education

Asked by: Mike Kane

How does the Minister reconcile the Government’s commitment to a devolved skills settlement in Greater Manchester with slashing a quarter of the further education college budget and slapping an apprentice tax on business?

Answered by: Nick Boles

It is fairly amazing to hear an Opposition Member attack the apprenticeship levy, which is something that the Opposition thought was so extraordinarily left-wing that they were not willing to propose it in their manifesto. I should have thought that the modern Labour party would consider it a thoroughly mainstream suggestion. As for the hon. Gentleman’s other comments, he will have observed that his party organised an Opposition debate to attack the 25% to 40% slashing of further education budgets, which did not happen when the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box and confirmed that we were going to maintain adult skills funding and 16 to 19 funding.

25 Jan 2016 | Oral questions – 1st Supplementary | 605 c7

Greater Manchester

Asked by: The Earl of Listowel (CB)

My Lords, in continuing this process of development in Greater Manchester, does the Minister not agree that it is the training and development of the people that are so important? In that regard, will he draw the attention of the leadership of Manchester to the report of my noble friend Lady Howarth on family learning, which was supported by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education? It highlights the effectiveness of family learning for developing skills in the workforce.

Answered by: Lord Newby

My Lords, one of the key things about the devolution of powers to Manchester is that it covers some of these areas. For example, services in terms of targeted employment support for vulnerable people have already been devolved to Manchester, and there are others. The “Working Well” pilot is also doing extremely well in that area and other plans on integrating health and social care have been devolved down to Manchester, so what the noble Earl is seeking is all part of that process.

27 Nov 2014 | Oral questions – Supplementary | 757 c995

Skills and Growth

17 Jun 2015 | HC Deb | 597 c321-76


[1]     HM Treasury, Greater Manchester Agreement, 2014, p.9-10

[2]     WS Further Education, 20 July 2015

[3]     “Future of nearly 40 colleges in question as BIS and DfE reveals those facing area reviews”, FE Week, 8 September 2015

[4]     Manchester City Council Economy Scrutiny Committee, Meeting 25 May 2016: 5 – Manchester College

[5]     “Leaked minutes expose Manchester area review delay concerns”, FE Week, 20 May 2016

[6]     HM Treasury, Further Devolution to Greater Manchester Combined Authority, March 2016, p. 4

[7]     Ibid.

[8] All data in this section are from UKCES, UK Employer Skills Survey 2015, LEP results data tables (standards)


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