Withers report on skills delivery calls for big reforms

James Withers

Major structural reforms are required to the current way skills are delivered in Scotland, according to an independent review of the system by former Scotland Food & Drink CEO James Withers.

The Independent Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape  outlines recommendations to ensure the public sector can meet the level of economic transformation expected in the years ahead.

Key recommendations made by the Withers report include:

  • the creation of a new single funding and delivery body, bringing together functions from Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and, possibly, the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
  • giving enterprise agencies a clear remit for supporting businesses, with workforce planning as an embedded and integrated part of business development and planning
  • ensuring there is a clear remit for the new qualifications body – the successor to the SQA – in overseeing development and accreditation of all publicly funded post-school qualifications
  • moving responsibility for national skills planning to the Scottish Government
  • reform of SDS to create a new body with a singular focus on careers advice and education

The Scottish Government initiated the Withers review in August 2022, seeking recommendations on how the public body landscape should be adapted to drive forward Ministers’ ambitions for a skilled workforce – as set out in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation (NSET).

Minister for Further and Higher Education Graeme Dey said: “This review is comprehensive and the direction of travel it points us towards is  very helpful.

“I am extremely grateful to James Withers for the broad and extensive range of work he has carried out to assist us in developing a skills offering fit for the years ahead.

“It is encouraging to see the good work of public sector partners acknowledged in the report, however it also sets out a clear case for extensive change so that we have a lifelong education and skills system in place which serves the needs of learners, employers and our future economy.

“I am supportive of the broad direction of travel James Withers identifies but will take a little time to consider fully the detail of the recommendations and the practicalities of implementing them.

“As a key part of that process we will, over the next few months, be engaging directly with the organisations, agencies, trades unions and other stakeholders covered by the recommendations to obtain their input before embarking on reform of the public body landscape and skills offering.”

Withers said: “Our skills delivery landscape should aspire to be world-class and the recommendations in this report are developed to make a significant further step forward on that journey.

“There is much that is good in the current system which has served Scotland’s needs well over the past 15 years.

“The scale of change I am proposing reflects the scale of transformation facing us and the need to create a system which allows users to meet the opportunities and challenges ahead.”

Salmon Scotland welcomed the findings and urged the Scottish Government “to embrace reform.”

Scottish salmon farms directly employ 2,500 people and support more than 3,600 suppliers, with a further 10,000 jobs dependent on the sector.

The sector adds £760 million a year to the country’s economy (GVA), and Scottish salmon is the UK’s biggest food export.

Salmon Scotland CEO Tavish Scott said: “The salmon sector, Scotland’s leading food export, welcomes this well-argued case for change on skills businesses need.

“Our sector is responsible for creating thousands of high-paid, skilled, and rewarding jobs right across the country.

“We want to help the next generation of young people and are a leading provider of modern apprenticeships and other training opportunities.

“But the current approach does not work as effectively as it should.

“We hope the Government will embrace the recommendations, take the views of business and growth sectors such as ours, and move to implementation.”