Small businesses welcome election focus on skills and training

Ben Gartside
Apprentices being shown how to use a tool making machine. Photo: Getty

Industry bodies such as Make UK and the Federation of Small Businesses have welcomed policy promises on skills training and adult education from political parties ahead of the 12 December general election.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have announced expansive policies on skills and training. The Conservative party is expected to do the same when it announces its manifesto.

The Liberal Democrats have promised a “skills wallet”, which will give every adult £10,000 to spend on education and training, with all adults being given £4,000 at 25, £3,000 at 40 and another £3,000 at 55.

Labour has promised £3bn towards adult education and retraining. Shadow small business minister Bill Esterton told Yahoo Finance UK: “The businesses of the future need access to workers who are skilled in new technologies. It's absolutely right that workers of today are able to train in new skills and share in the prosperity a Labour government will bring.”

Big spending on adult education marks a shift in policy. According to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the adult education budget has fallen by 47% since 2009-10, and 32% from 2003-04 to 2009-10 under Labour.

The change follows pressure from business groups to focus more on the subject. 

Federation of Small Businesses national chairman Mike Cherry told Yahoo Finance: “It’s good to see the political parties turning their attention to skills, training and building up the workforce of tomorrow. This is especially important in light of the changes brought by technological advancements in the workplace and the reduced adult participation in education.

“We’ve long called for a more joined-up approach when it comes to training our workforces and providing education for those at work.”

He said any proposals need to ensure that “no one is left behind,” particularly in relation to obtaining digital skills.

Cherry also called for tax relief for the self employed. “While help for employees is welcome, all too often, the country’s self-employed are forgotten. Provision must be made to allow them to retrain and develop their skills and education through a tax relief.

 “We’ve also long advocated for parity of esteem between technical and higher education. Making sure that the apprenticeship funding system in England works for small businesses is essential for this purpose. Injecting fresh funds into the system is critical to prevent small firms from being priced out of hiring an apprentice.

“Training and retraining the next generation of workers will help businesses, individuals and the UK as a whole.”

Make UK and the CBI are also supportive of the policy advancements. The CBI told the BBC that it welcomed the changes, saying “Adult participation in education is at its lowest for two decades.”