Within recent weeks the Government has – with a fair amount of fuss and fanfare – launched a consultation on a new Industrial Strategy and designated a number of places, including Doncaster, as Social Mobility Opportunity Areas.
There is a recurring theme of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills in much of the Government’s rhetoric and an increasing desire to involve business in the world of education.
It hopefully goes without saying that a civic minded business organisation like Doncaster Chamber would evangelise about these aspirations all day long.
Therefore, we – and, no doubt, the Doncaster business community - would be happy to partner with Government to bring these lofty policy aspirations to life and help them to mean something for the region’s SMEs and communities alike. However, there is a snag. Despite the rhetoric about supporting business, promoting access to opportunity and creating improved life chances for young people – including here in Doncaster - the Government has yet to make a decision on Doncaster’s bid for a University Technical College (UTC).
The UTC has an unprecedented level of private sector support – including from some of our anchor rail, engineering and construction firms – and will, through partnership working, provide new services and facilities for our existing schools, and provide pathways into apprenticeships, higher education and employment for Doncaster’s young people regardless of their background.
Unfortunately, the Department for Education seems unable to make a decision on granting its opening. This is despite the fact Doncaster’s original bid was submitted over a year ago and that the bid team was interviewed in June 2016.
Despite this prevarication, the team backing the UTC project – which includes Doncaster Chamber, leading employers, DMBC, Doncaster College, local schools and the University of Sheffield – is continuing apace.
We have also mounted a vociferous lobbying campaign and I would like to use this opportunity to thank Doncaster’s MPs for their support in this.
However, there is only so much we can do without Government support and, sadly, we are now looking at a 2019 rather than 2018 opening date as a result of their indecision.
I’m now calling on Government not to let this slip further as doing so would not only be contrary to their own policies but, more importantly, be a betrayal of the Doncaster firms and young people that need good quality technical education.