The Skills Bank of England – fixing interest rates?

Now here’s a question. Back in October, I temporarily went all metaphorical and suggested in this blog that the FE sector would be more respected if it wasn’t seen as a Cinderella service, but as the skills Bank of England. That seemed to strike a chord with quite a few people. So here’s a follow-up question. If we were to be the Skills Bank of England, who would be our version of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) and what would they do?

It was the new Chancellor in 1997, Gordon Brown, who took operational responsibility for setting interest rates away from the Treasury and set up the MPC to perform that function instead. The rationale for the decision was the view that political interference in the interest rate-setting process was creating a boom-and-bust economy influenced by party political factors, not economic needs.

The government established its annual objectives – targets for price stability (inflation), growth and employment levels, and the MPC then met monthly to keep the economy on track and free from short-term political interference. The committee consists of the Governor of the Bank of England, two Deputy Governors, two of the Bank’s Executive Directors, and four external members appointed by the Chancellor for a period of three years. The government has the right to instruct the Bank on what rate to set in the event of an emergency.

The transfer of this role from the direct control of government and short-term political considerations has generally been seen to add credibility to monetary policy and relative stability in terms of inflation. So, what if? What if this model was used for the learning and skills sector to remove short-term policy change and party political ideology from education and training? How would it work?

What would be the long-term objectives that the Skills Bank of England would have to work towards? Would they include an output of skills reflecting medium term Labour Market Intelligence on future needs? Would there be a target for sustainable progression into full-time employment or further/higher study for college graduates? Would targets include the overall quality of teaching, or a measure of the development of soft skills, English and maths?

And who would the Governor be? And where would the membership of the Skills Policy Committee (SPC) be drawn from? From the leadership of the AoC or 157 Group perhaps? Or from Ofsted? The College of Teaching? The FE Commissioner? The Education and Training Foundation? NIACE?

What powers would the SPC have and what stability could they promise? No more “my Apprenticeship targets are bigger than your Apprenticeship targets” political posturing? Multi-year funding agreements for providers? Moratorium on changes in Ofsted CIF over a fixed period of time? Could this committee insist on Financial Fair Play – insist that learning and skills funding was proportionate in meeting the real costs of education and training, or linked to rates secured by other more protected education sectors?

You can probably tell that I’ve had the luxury of a few days at an out-of-season seaside resort to stomp across deserted beaches and let the chill sea air bluster around by head. But, what if? How would it work? Could it work?And would it be a Good Thing? Answers on a post card please…


About dp40days

A senior leader in Further and Higher Education, now based in Moray (pronounced "Murray") on the coast of the Scottish Highlands. (I know, I love paradox). We have more sunshine and less rain each year than my previous home in Manchester, and about fifty more distilleries too! You can find me on Twitter as @DP40days. Blogs so far have been mainly about work and travel but frankly, I've been a bit quiet recently. Maybe that's about to change...
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