The Leitch Review was tasked in 2004 with considering the UK’s long-term skills needs. The UK is building on economic strength and stability, with 14 years of unbroken growth and the highest employment rate in the G7. Its skills base has improved significantly over the last decade with rising school standards and growth in graduate numbers. Despite this, the UK’s skills base remains weak by international standards, holding back productivity, growth and social justice. The Review has found that, even if current targets to improve skills are met, the UK’s skills base will still lag behind that of many comparator countries in 2020. The UK will run to stand still.
The global economy is changing rapidly, with emerging economies such as India and China growing dramatically, altering UK competitiveness. The population is ageing, technological change and global migration flows are increasing. There is a direct correlation between skills, productivity and employment. Unless the UK can build on reforms to schools, colleges and universities and make its skills base one of its strengths, UK businesses will find it increasingly difficult to compete. As a result of low skills, the UK risks increasing inequality, deprivation and child poverty, and risks a generation cut off permanently from labour market opportunity. The best form of welfare is to ensure that people can adapt to change. Skills were once a key lever for prosperity and fairness. Skills are now increasingly the key lever. A radical step-change is necessary.