Why have ministers given Mayor Dr Nik Johnson so few funds for adult education?

The national picture is grim.

“The initial teaching and learning funding allocations for adult further education (FE) and skills in England fell from a 2010‑11 baseline of £3.18 billion to £2.94 billion in 2015‑16”

Adult further education funding in England since 2010 – House of Commons Library

Given where it was in 2003, funding for adult education has collapsed.

“Funding for other adult education (mostly classroom-based and community learning) peaked at around £4.1 billion in 2003-04. It then fell by nearly two thirds by 2018-19″


Take two-thirds of the funding away from any significant public service inevitably has devastating consequences. As a result when we look at how much money has been made available to the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority, the funding is minimal given the population.

“Education and training courses for adults aged 19+ in England are funded through the Adult Education Budget (AEB). From August 2019, this was devolved by central Government to the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority. This means we can decide locally how we spend and use the £11.9m budget that we get every year to improve opportunities and life chances of residents.”

Combined Authority Adult Education

Yet the importance of adult education has not gone away – it was discussed on the radio today.

The previous evening I did a front-of-a-laptop calculation…

The Combined Authority goes into more detail on spending per head on the courses it provides:

Above – from the Adult Education Budget Devolution Evaluation 2020. – p12.

Note the massive fall in the number of providers pre and post-devolution – but with good reason given the evaluation showed over 100 of the providers had less than ten learners each receiving funding on their books.

“How many people were helped?”

CPCA Adult Education Budget money has reached a total of 8,421 people

Above – from the Adult Education Budget Devolution Evaluation 2020. – p18

Now let’s look at the numbers of people in and out of work from Cambridgeshire Insight.

Note the massive gender disparity, 83.1% of men in work, vs 72.5% of women in work. (Source – Cambs Insight Economic Overview 2021)

If 411,000 people make up 77.9% of the working-age population in work, then that means (411k / 0.779) makes up the total working age population of around 527,000. If I’ve got my maths right. Which means that 8,421 of those 527,000 adults being supported by the Adult Education Budget is around 1.5% of the working age population. A tiny amount given the challenges we face.

“Who is saying this is bad news?”

The normally-Conservative-supporting Confederation of British Industry, who are for employers what the Trade Unions Congress is for workers.

“The CBI’s new report Learning for life: funding world class adult education, based on McKinsey & Company analysis, shows that nine out of ten employees will need to reskill by 2030 at an additional cost of £13 billion a year. “

Learning for Life: Funding a world-class adult education system – The CBI – Oct 2020.

Assuming that the CBI’s report is correct, then around 475,000 of those adults will need to be reskilling between now and 2030. Yet with the current budget and structures, the Combined Authority alone will only be able to support just over 8,000 people per year. Or just over 64,000 people between now and 2030 – to the tune of just over £900 per year in course/training costs.

That is a miserably low figure – even when accounting for people funding their own training & education, as well as training provided for by employers – and even then there is a greater incentive for employers to poach talent from competitors (see town planning where firms often go after low paid local council town planners) rather than train up their own staff. Economist Frances Coppola wrote more on this phenomenon back in 2013.

Is this really ‘devolution’?

One of the reasons I don’t like the term ‘devolution’ being used in this way is because the new tier of local government does not get to decide how much revenue to raise through taxation or other means in order to meet an identified need. It’s simply Whitehall & ministers telling that tier to decide how to divide up the bread and fish that is already far too small for the people who are in need of feeding. So to speak.

If adult education is such a low priority, what hope is there for establishing new specialist adult education colleges given that only ministers have the legal powers to establish and grant funding for such new institutions?

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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