Jeremy Corbyn promises free further education courses for all adults to avoid another 'lost decade'

Only big public investment can prepare people for the impact of rapid technological change, Labour leader will argue

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 05 July 2017 22:02
Mr Corbyn will attack ‘a decade of lost growth, a decade of stagnant living standards’
Mr Corbyn will attack ‘a decade of lost growth, a decade of stagnant living standards’

Jeremy Corbyn is promising free further education courses at any stage of life as the centrepiece of a plan to avoid another “lost decade” for the economy.

The Labour leader will switch the focus of his attacks on the Government from low pay and the state of the NHS to the need to prepare for the impact of rapid technological change.

In a speech to the British Chamber of Commerce, Mr Corbyn will flesh out his manifesto promise of a National Education Service to deliver “fairness and prosperity for the 21st century”.

He will say he is not “one of the doom-mongers” who believes that technological change must lead to mass unemployment – provided the preparations are not “left to the market”.

Mr Corbyn will say: “As in every other technological revolution, disappearing jobs will be replaced by new, as yet unforeseen, forms of work.

“But there will be churn, as these new forms of work will often require a different set of skills to those they replace.

“That means we will need to invest in a step change in skills and training to upgrade the skills of the existing workforce and make sure everyone is able to retrain at any point in life to meet the changing needs of the economy.

“That’s why Labour has made a flagship commitment to make all further education courses free at the point of use for everyone at any stage of their lives.”

The plan would see Labour replace upfront fees for courses at colleges, or with training providers, with grants, including for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) courses.

The Labour leader will argue that only his party has “set out a vision to change our society, to invest in our economy” – with education at its heart.

He would ensure it “benefits the many not the few”, also allowing ordinary people to explore “opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have”.

“Our National Education Service will be the key institution of fairness and prosperity for the 21st century, just as the NHS transformed people’s prospects in the 20th century,” Mr Corbyn will say.

The speech is likely to bring Mr Corbyn face-to-face with critics, after his election manifesto proposed hefty tax hikes for businesses, to fund better public services.

It is significant in its attempt to show Labour setting out an ambitious agenda to be the next government, amid the continuing uncertainty facing Theresa May’s embattled administration.

Mr Corbyn will also attack what he will call the “lost decade of Conservative economic failure that the next Labour government will have to fix”.

“Britain has been living through a lost decade. A decade of lost growth. A decade of stagnant living standards,” he will say.

“A decade when investment and productivity fell so far that it takes a worker five days to produce what takes four days in Germany and France. Britain can’t afford another lost decade.”

Mr Corbyn will add: “We have unsecured household debt rising to record levels. And now we have economic growth that has slowed to just 0.2 per cent in the latest quarter – the worst in the G7.”

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