Putting technical and academic qualifications on an equal footing | Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham column

The levelling up agenda so frequently spoken about is not just about infrastructure and town centres – important as they are.

Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham

It’s about a wholesale transformation in the way Burnley and Padiham is thought about, represented and pushed forward.

We all know that for far too long our borough has been an afterthought in the minds of politicians.

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Decades of being represented by the same old people resulted in nothing tangible, and when change did come it often came with a hefty PFI price tag around its neck.

And more than that there has, sadly, been a lack of a positive vision for what we can achieve, and importantly a plan to see that turned in to a reality.

Changing this is one of the central reasons why I became involved in politics, and my commitment to seeing it implemented in Burnley and Padiham is just as strong now, as it was on the day when I was elected.

Our borough doesn’t deserve the constant talking down that some seek to peddle.

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We are a borough of innovators, engineers and community champions. That’s the story our young people need to hear about so when they leave school, they have ambition to help us improve our area, rather than feeling like the only option is to move away.

This week, after the reshuffle of Cabinet, I have been meeting Ministers to ensure they understand what levelling up must mean for boroughs like ours.

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And that is particularly important now that the strategy has been placed under the single leadership of the new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, headed up by Michael Gove MP.

In Cabinet Office questions on Thursday I asked the new Minister there to confirm this would remain a cross-government effort. Bringing together health, education, work, infrastructure and more.

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And on Wednesday I met the Chancellor, one-to-one, to ensure he got that message too. So as he is preparing his Budget and the multi-year spending review, which are due at the end of

October, he has an understanding of what kind of changes we need to see.

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We also spoke at length about how we need to drive job opportunities across our borough.

It is a passion that both I and the Chancellor share and residents will no doubt have seen my determination to get out visiting our businesses every week.

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I want to understand the challenges so that during those important conversations, our voice and message is heard.

I know from those business conversations that one of the biggest challenges we face locally is a shortage of skills in the areas employers need.

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And so, a big part of my conversation with Rishi focused on the Lifetime Skills Guarantee and the need to ensure we have world class educational facilities locally.

Places like Burnley College will be key to this, working with employers and local people to offer higher level qualifications that support in-work progression and re-training.

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This week we also celebrate the further expansion of the transformational T Level qualifications.

At the heart of these is exactly that challenge of skills and matching these to what employers need; widening the opportunities available for post 16 year-olds and for the first time, putting technical and academic qualifications on an equal footing.

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Launched in September of last year they are equivalent to 3 A Levels and have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses so that the content meets the needs of industry.

And this month marks not only the first anniversary of T Levels, but also their expansion to a whole new range of topics including building services, engineering for construction, digital business services, digital support services, health, healthcare science, onsite construction, and science, widening career opportunities for yet more people in Burnley and Padiham.

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Burnley College is at the cutting edge of introducing these qualifications, and has received a cash grant from Government to support the expanding facilities needed to make them available.

There are huge opportunities available across our borough and working with employers, educational providers, and others I will continue to showcase them locally, and to Government.