Divergent Skills Policy Trajectories in England and Scotland after Leitch
Since its election in 1997, the UK (New) Labour government has consistently argued that national economic success and social justice depends critically upon boosting the supply of skilled, qualified labour. The recent Treasury-sponsored Leitch Review of Skills concluded that ‘skills is the most important lever within our control to create wealth and to reduce social deprivation.’ In doing so, it recommended the adoption of a series of ambitious qualification targets aimed at equipping the UK with a ‘worldclass’ skills base by 2020. However, education and training is a devolved issue in the UK and the parliaments/assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have control over this area of policy. While the UK government has accepted the Leitch targets as a basis for skills policy in England, this has not been the case in either Scotland or Wales. Furthermore, Scotland has recently produced a skills strategy that is noticeably different in its underlying thinking and approach to that being pursued in England. While English policy makers focus narrowly on boosting skills supply and matching overseas levels of qualification stocks, their Scottish counterparts are increasingly stressing the need for skills to be utilised effectively at work and are seeking to integrate skills policy within a wider business improvement, innovation and economic development agenda. With skills policies now pointing in two different directions, the paper examines the factors that have resulted in these contrasting approaches to tackling ‘the skills problem’, together with the main challenges they confront.