Agenda item

Skills delivery and supporting the Inclusive Economic Strategy


The Committee considered a report of the Corporate Director of Regeneration and Growth which set out the current skills performance and supporting infrastructure operating across County Durham and examined the opportunities to deliver the people and skills aspirations and requirements set out in the Inclusive Economic Strategy (IES) (for copy see file of Minutes).


The Chair welcomed A Kerr, Head of Economic Development who provided an introduction to the report noting the current performance and infrastructure to support development and delivery of skills in County Durham. He explained that the report examined those opportunities to deliver skills and meet aspirations, alongside detailing some of the recent policy changes which may help to provide further alignment in the development and delivery of skills in the future. He noted that the Inclusive Economic Strategy (IES) had been agreed by Cabinet at its meeting held the previous week, which now provided a clear strategic direction under the people element of the IES, identifying local skills needs and work with partners to align skill priorities to that need with clear actions to be embedded in the resulting action plan.


G Wood, Economic Development Manager then provided Members with some context to the skills infrastructure, noting the focus on policy changes and the ability to support increasing productivity and growth. As a result, this had increased the employer’s priority to articulate their current and future needs.


He went on to provide details surrounding the current skills infrastructure and at a local level noting that this reflected the broad national mix of learning establishments. He also explained that the council as an Education Authority also held a contract with Department for Education to deliver Adult Education and the budget to support it was outlined in appendix 2 of the report.


Moving on the report provided detail surrounding skills performance, highlighting that the qualifications profile for County Durham had started to change since the last Skills Strategy was produced with some improvements in relation to qualifications obtained at Level 4 and above.


He further explained how these qualifications linked to sustained employment in higher skilled roles, however he highlighted that the UK Employer Skills Survey, last undertaken in 2019 and due for publication next year would provide a comprehensive resource on employer skill needs for the future, which would help assess harder to fill vacancies and skill shortages.


The Economic Development Manager went on to provide more detail relating to the recent skills policy changes with the Skills and Post 16 Education Act 2022 further enhancing the role of Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) placing them on a statutory footing and enables the Secretary of State to designate Employer Related Bodies (ERBs) to lead the development and review of LSIPs for a specified local area, places duties on training authorities to co-operate with ERBs in the development and review of LSIPs and once developed to have regard  to LSIPs in shaping their provision. He highlighted the importance of ensuring that there was alignment between local skills and educational offer in County Durham and confirmed that across the NE Combined Authority area, the NE Automotive Alliance (NEAA) had been designated as the ERB with responsibility for developing the LSIP.


He continued by informing the committee that a lengthy consultation was undertaken on Skills Funding and Accountability reforms which ended in October 2022, this consultation focussed on the support and incentives to deliver change in the skills system and included making further changes to accountability and funding including the introduction of accountability agreements, with LSIPs forming the basis of local priorities to which providers are accountable and changes to Ofsted inspection regime to include how well providers are contributing to meeting skills needs.


The Economic Development Manager then explained that in developing the LSIP, the NEAA have identified key sectors linked to growth of the regional economy and these closely reflect the key sectors identified in the IES such as construction and advanced engineering and are currently undertaking a three-stage process which seeks to understand the current workforce skills requirements, translate into provision, and address learner demand and employer engagement.

He further explained that the NE LEP have undertaken significant efforts to align school based education with pupils potential careers and progression pathways using a series of benchmarks with a pilot running across two academic years.  The implementation of the Gatsby benchmarks by providers was intended to focus on the immediate career and progression opportunities available to learners after leaving school. He confirmed that Government has now adopted the Gatsby benchmarks into their 2017 Careers Strategy for all schools and colleges in England.  The Gatsby benchmark programme was embedded in the North East Ambition Programme with the NELEP’s strategic economic plan in 2018 including developing a primary school benchmark pilot, adopt the Gatsby Good Career Guidance benchmarks by all secondary schools and colleges and secure and deliver a £3.4m North East Ambition programme which ensures that our education system provides young people with the skills to meet the long-term needs of the NE economy.


He further explained that funding had also recently been sourced from the Poverty Action Group to deliver a new Work Places Project, with students in Year 10 and Year 12 being able to learn about specific employment sectors, different job roles within those sectors, as well as recruitment processes. They would also be afforded time with employees to find out about their pathways into work, to show them the opportunities that are available within County Durham.


He then explained the key skill issues highlighted by the Economic Review in the county, to be addressed, this data has been used to develop the people strand of the IES with a specific focus on supporting people into education, training jobs and to excel in business and their careers.  It was highlighted that delivery of the Economic strategy is a partnership activity with the Business, Enterprise and skills thematic group taking the lead on skill issues and ensuring that skills are aligned to business need. The timing of the IES delivery plan for people will link with and support the LSIP process ensuring that strategic alignment of regional and local skills delivery with established and evidenced employer needs.


Mrs R Morris, Co-optee thanked officers for the depth of information provided in the report noting the challenges ahead. She went on to ask a number of questions including how the council intended to bring all the organisations and partners together to achieve the desired outcomes. In reference to the last bullet point of paragraph 13, page 15 of the report relating to matching demand and supply of skills she commented that she was quite disappointed in the statement that better matching between demand and supply of skills will make only a modest contribution to levelling up in areas where the demand is relatively low – level skills, these areas should be a priority and brought up to the same level as elsewhere in the county.  . In addition, she asked about the make-up of the Economic Partnership and ensuring there was adequate coverage of key industries not just those in digital and energy sectors. A further question was raised regarding careers advice, Gatsby benchmarks and who was responsible for checking that the Gatsby benchmarks is being delivered in schools as she was aware that in some school’s teachers were doing this in addition to already heavy workloads.


In response the Head of Economic Development advised that it was important to create the right skills for the population and confirmed that a priority in the IES is to increase the number of higher skilled jobs within the county and particularly in relation to those areas of the county with low skill levels.  He continued that to attract investment into these areas we need the required skill base for employers. With regard to the Economic Partnership, he advised that the membership was being reviewed, with larger employees from alternative sectors being encouraged to join the board.


The Economic Development Manager further explained in relation to levelling up, that it was about bringing together supply and demand and working with employers who were operating with lower skill sets, to assist them in being more productive through research and development to help increase their skills profile.


With regard to the Economic Partnership, he noted the range of SME’s represented and further wider representation from the North East Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Small Businesses.


In relation to the use of the Gatsby benchmarking this is driven by the NE LEP with evaluations being undertaken of the use of Gatsby, these evaluations have been positive. Concerning the Gatsby model and careers advice J Murray, Head of Education and Skills advised that a log was maintained of where DCC schools are providing benchmarking data and he confirmed that there is an established network within County Durham that meet and discuss the application of the benchmarking. He also referenced the drive around pastoral care with a careers’ focus and drive to improve school attendance.


Mrs R Morris, asked what could be done to bring all these groups together and asked whether a cross group facility could be established to better inform trainers of what the industry needed in terms of skills for the future.


Councillor Martin commented that it was important to maintain the dialogue between business and trainers to ensure the ongoing provision of high-quality apprenticeships to add to the skills population.



He further noted that he welcomed the measures through Ofsted, to enable links to be formed with training providers, however suggested that their principle concern may be to get numbers in seats, rather than ensuring the courses provided were relevant and where there were genuine skills shortages.


The Head of Economic Development acknowledged the comments made, noting that work was being done to reach all training providers, encouraging collaborative work, and assessing what jobs were out there and not only the skills required to do those jobs, but also the quality of the jobs available.


Councillor Sterling commented that speaking from experience she felt that teachers in schools were time poor and did not have the in-depth knowledge to be able to talk to young people about career opportunities in the various sectors. She felt that careers fayres were an excellent way to raise the aspirations of young people.  She highlighted that there is a need to engage with children at a younger age at primary school.


In response the Head of Education and Skills noted that during Year 8, careers development formed part of pastoral tuition, however noted that DurhamWorks, also provides further career support such as career fayres in targeted schools in areas of deprivation and this could be looked at collectively as part of the DASH programme.


The Chair at this point thanked the officers for the report and commented upon current skills performance, noting that it was important to also look to save at risk jobs, from those where the advancement of technology may replace their manual jobs. He further referenced paragraph 29 of the report, referring to the careers agenda, and asked who would be responsible for pulling this piece of work together. He continued that in order to achieve the objectives of the strategy, working together with relevant partners and providers was imperative.


Cllr Surtees commented that in relation to the UK SPF, it is a further 18 months before the funding can be drawn down for the people and skills element and asked what funding we have available currently.

The Chair suggested that this could be responded to when considering the next agenda item.

Councillor Lines asked that in relation to the performance information presented in the report regarding the level of skills performance in County Durham compared to other Local Authorities in the region, did we have any data for Tees Valley.

The Economic Development Manager advised that there was a nationally published table, so it would be possible to get information on jobs in the Tees Valley area, he did however note that there were some local authority boundary constraints and the authority would need to be cognisant of existing local skills improvement plans.


Councillor Batey suggested that it would be beneficial to target primary children as well as those in secondary school with early careers development. In addition, she commented that connectivity was crucial, as many locations within the county still do not have good access to internet and this limited their opportunities for hybrid or home working jobs.


The Head of Economic Development reassured members that this issue was picked up in the IES under the ‘Places’ theme but also in the connectivity strategy.




i)              That the committee note the countywide arrangement for the identification and delivery of skills to meet current economic priorities.

ii)             That the committee receive a further update on the development of the North East Local Skills Improvement Plan. 





Supporting documents: