Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
This statement is to update Members on the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) current position regarding the implementation of their skills conditionality policy in Wales.
In February 2011, I wrote to Chris Grayling, UK Government Minister for Employment about the potential impact of the DWP’s skills conditionality policy in relation to Welsh Government funded provision. In subsequent correspondence over an extended period, most recently in April this year, I have continued to express concern about DWP’s policy of trying to enforce unemployed people to learn through the threat of benefit sanctions. The Welsh Government is yet to be convinced by this approach and I have consistently requested that the UK Government provide evaluation of their activity in England before deciding whether to support the implementation of the policy in Wales.
Despite making our position clear, the DWP confirmed its intention to push ahead regardless and has been trying to put arrangements in place to make attendance at Welsh Government funded provision mandatory for customers perceived as needing to address a skills gap.
I was resolute in my commitment to oppose this apparent disregard for our position. I am pleased to confirm that, in a sudden reversal of their decision, DWP has now confirmed that it will respect the Welsh Government position of continuing to deliver our learning and skills programmes on a voluntary engagement basis until such time that it is able to provide evaluation of activity for us to review our position again. It will therefore only mandate skills conditionality through programmes that the DWP itself funds.
Whilst the DWP can continue to pursue skills conditionality through their own funded provision, I believe their recent about-turn on arrangements in Wales demonstrates not only respect for our position, but also recognises that UK Government policy may not always align with that of the Welsh Government.