One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? Skills Policy in England under the Coalition Government
Traditionally, skills policies in the UK have focused primarily upon boosting the supply of skills as a route to improved economic prosperity as well as social inclusion/mobility. However, some academic commentators have argued that this approach is insufficient and that more attention needs to be given to addressing problems of weak employer demand for, and utilisation of, skills. Recently, some of these ideas have begun to be taken up by sections of the policy community. Issues around skills demand and utilisation figured prominently in Scotland’s 2007 skills strategy, and are now beginning to inform new forms of policy experimentation. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills has also argued that ‘the future employment and skills system will need to invest as much effort on raising employer ambition, on stimulating demand, as it does on enhancing skills supply’. In light of these developments, the paper examines some of the challenges confronting skills policy in England under the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government, and considers the prospects for a more integrative and holistic approach to tackling the ‘skills problem’. It argues that the political and ideological space for such an approach is limited in England with skills policy likely to focus mainly upon skills supply, albeit with vastly diminished state funding/subsidy.