East Coast College joins Further Education leaders in call for accelerated investment to tackle widening skills gaps in Norfolk and Suffolk


Further Education leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk have warned MPs that urgent action is needed to address worsening skills shortages and to prevent young people and employers missing out on future jobs and growth opportunities.

In an open letter to the region’s MPs, ahead of the Spring Budget on 6th March, the leaders of East Coast College, City College Norwich, Suffolk New College, College of West Anglia and Eastern Education Group, call for the pace of investment in skills to be speeded up.

Collectively, these five colleges: educate more than half of all young people aged 16-19 in Norfolk and Suffolk; train more than 6,000 apprentices and their employers; and provide opportunities for over 10,000 adults to re-train or upskill themselves.

The college leaders fear that, without urgent action by the Government, many of these young people, adults, and employers could miss out in the coming years.

The letter highlights that the proportion of vacancies caused by lack of skilled applicants has rocketed up from 22% in 2017 to 36% in the latest Department for Education (DfE) employer survey.

Even taking into account rising skilled migrant visa numbers, they argue that ‘Without skilled people, our economy will not grow fast enough.’

The letter goes on to say that the Prime Minister’s recently announced 10-year education plan contains many of the ‘right ambitions’, but that ‘we need to start investing now if there is any chance of the teachers and facilities being in place to deliver them.’

The college leaders call on Norfolk and Suffolk’s MPs to press the Chancellor to take urgent action on skills in the forthcoming Spring Budget, with two priorities highlighted:

  1. Mind the skills gap – using extra money that could be raised from an immigration skills charge to enable colleges to tackle the urgent priorities identified by employers in the local skills improvement plans (LSIPs) and tackle the increased number of skills shortage vacancies.
  • Making a down payment on the proposed Advanced British Standard qualification – investing to close the pay gap between school teachers and college lecturers, extending the 16-18 tuition fund, and reimbursing VAT for colleges to start the journey to the introduction of ABS in 2033.

Taking these immediate steps would allow colleges to play their part in reversing key skills shortages in Norfolk and Suffolk, whilst contributing to ‘an inclusive, tolerant, welcoming, strong society and a growing and productive economy.’

Urmila Rasan, Deputy CEO at East Coast College, commented:

“We are united in working with other education providers in Norfolk and Suffolk to address skills shortages and support the young people in our communities to access jobs of the future. We believe additional investment would not only allow us to invest in our college facilities to provide the very best learning experiences for our students, but also support us to respond to curriculum development and skills demand.

Alan Pease, Principal and Chief Executive Officer at Suffolk New College, commented:

Suffolk New College works collaboratively with a wide range of employers across many sectors, through its Industry Partner Programme. College leaders and employer partners are in agreement that significant investment is needed to tackle key skills gaps in our region, as outlined in last year’s Local Skills Improvement Plan (LSIP). We are therefore joining forces with the four other colleges in the New Anglia region, and their similarly vast employer networks, to urge the Treasury to commit to a greater investment in the sector that will allow colleges to unlock the potential to deliver on the skills initiative, support employer workforce demands and ensure we are meeting the needs of the communities that we serve.”

David Pomfret, Principal and Chief Executive Officer at College of West Anglia, commented:

“There is a crisis in college workforce recruitment and retention, driven principally by poor pay, which undermines college’s ability to meet employer skills needs. Too many good staff are leaving the sector for better pay elsewhere. Finding and keeping teaching staff in skills shortage and priority sectors like engineering, construction, computing, science, health and maths, is increasingly difficult. The average pay for teaching staff in colleges is approximately £8000pa below that in schools and for other staff the gaps are equally significant.  Poor staff pay must be addressed through proper government investment.”

Dr Nikos Savvas, FCCT, Chief Executive Officer at Eastern Education Group, commented:

“Education is the single most effective factor to move economies forward, increase productivity and move countries out of recession. Our colleges are at the heart of the communities we serve and every year we are upskilling and reskilling thousands of adults in vital areas needed for our country. Investment in our colleges means investment in our businesses, our workforce, and the economy. Effective governments have always understood the need to invest in colleges and we are looking forward to working with the treasury to help unlock the true potential of this country.”

Jerry White, Principal and Chief Executive Officer at City College Norwich, commented:

“At City College Norwich, Easton College and Paston College we are working with our employer partners to tackle key skills gaps in our region, including in digital skills, agricultural technology, and green skills for the energy transition. We urge the Treasury to “level the playing field” for College’s by allowing us to be reimbursed for VAT as that would unlock millions of pounds of additional investment to support our communities and economy.”