England’s directly-elected regional mayors will meet in Liverpool today, at the invitation of Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor.
The meeting builds on the success of two previous meetings in London and Birmingham.
At the summit, all eight mayors – four Conservative and four Labour – will call on the government for greater devolution of powers and funding over skills.
All eight have signed up to a joint statement calling for further reforms to the skills system, including more control over Apprenticeship Levy funds to boost skills in their areas.
Present at the meeting will be Tim Bowles, West of England; Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester; Sadiq Khan, London; Ben Houchen, Tees Valley; Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region; Andy Street, West Midlands.
James Palmer, Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, and Dan Jarvis, Sheffield City Region, are unable to attend but signed the joint statement.
All of the mayors present will attend the International Festival of Business, currently taking place in Liverpool, and supported by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.
The morning will see a panel discussion featuring a number of the mayors, while Sadiq Khan will address the Festival in the afternoon, followed by an “in conversation” session with Steve Rotheram.
A focus for discussions will be the Government’s flagship Apprenticeship Levy, which is intended to fund new apprenticeships through a levy of 0.5% of their paybill for employers with salary costs of more than £3 million per year.
Funding can then be drawn down by employers to pay for apprenticeships.
Since the levy was introduced new apprenticeship starts have dropped by 24%, and businesses are finding it difficult to provide the apprenticeships our regions need.
The metro mayors agreed the following joint statement: “As the UK approaches Brexit it is of vital importance for our future growth and prosperity that businesses have access to a workforce with the range of skills necessary to be competitive in the modern global economy.
“As Mayors representing every corner of England we know we would be letting our residents down if we failed to provide them with the opportunities to gain the skills and experience they need to fulfil their potential.
“Between the eight of us we account for nearly 42 per cent of all British growth (GVA). We know our local economies and the needs of the labour market in our areas and we are committed to developing innovative ideas to create a step change in skills and training provision.
“We recognise the Government’s efforts to reform the skills system and applaud its ambition to see three million apprenticeships by 2020. However, the reality is that the number of apprenticeship starts has dropped sharply, with the number of starts falling by 24% since the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy last year.
“With that in mind, we call on the Government to give us the flexibility we need to address these issues, specifically by granting city regions control of the Apprenticeship Levy funding which levy payers do not spend, and by further devolving control of 16-19 skills policy.
“We also call on the Government to provide additional funding for us to ensure that there are enough quality providers in our city regions, and to drive the quality of apprenticeships.
“If Government allow us these flexibilities and worked with our city regions, we would ensure that it is used to deliver the gold-standard apprenticeships and skills training that our residents, employers, and the country as a whole, so desperately need.
“We call on the Skills Minister to meet with us to discuss how we can work together to drive apprenticeships and technical education in our regions.”