This report is due to be pre-scrutinised at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee scheduled to take place on Thursday 9th June 2022. Any recommendations that are made by the Committee on this subject will be reported for the Executive Committee’s consideration in a supplementary pack.
The Head of Legal, Democratic and Property Services presented a report detailing a review of the Council’s Learning Online service.
Members were informed that the service had been reviewed as a result of the Council’s budget setting process. The Council currently delivered the Learning Online service, which was a discretionary service and the service added value to the local community. However, a key question for Members to consider was whether the authority should continue to deliver the service moving forward. Alternatively, the Council could choose not to renew a contract with Herefordshire and Worcestershire (HoW) College when this came up for renewal in July 2022. The Executive Committee was asked to note that, should the Council choose not to renew the contract, the authority would be obliged to ensure that support was provided to the existing cohort of customers to enable them to complete their studies.
The report had been pre-scrutinised at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 9th June 2022. During the meeting, a number of issues had been raised in respect of alternative service providers. Worcestershire County Council had subsequently confirmed that that authority provided the same courses as Learning Online in respect of English and Mathematics. In addition, Worcestershire County Council provided certain IT courses that were not available to access from Learning Online. Worcestershire County Council had been providing remote learning courses during the pandemic, although would be returning to provision of face-to-face training in due course. For both online and face-to-face training the courses were tutor-led.
Should the Executive Committee decide to cease to provide the Learning Online service, this would be subject to the outcomes of formal consultation with staff. As no such decision had been taken to date, formal consultation had not yet been undertaken with staff. However, staff had been informally consulted on the proposals. Staff had reported that they provided support to a range of customers, including residents with barriers to learning. The Learning Online service provided a nurturing environment designed to support adult learners and to enable them to achieve their potential.
Members discussed the report in detail and in doing so questioned whether ceasing to provide the service at the end of the financial year, rather than the academic year, would have a detrimental impact on learners. Officers explained that this would be subject to the extent to which customers successfully completed their examinations. Should the Council cease to provide the service in December 2022, all of the current cohort apart from eight customers would have completed their studies. Should the Council wait until the end of the financial year then all of the participants should have completed their studies. There was the potential that some existing customers would want to transfer to alternative service providers whilst others might opt to continue to receive a service from Learning Online until the end of their studies.
Reference was made to the availability of alternative service providers and the organisations that could provide these services. Officers highlighted the information that had been provided in an appendix to the report concerning alternative service provision. Worcestershire County Council and HoW College were the larger local service providers but there were other organisations operating in both the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) and private sector that could potentially provide training to adults in future. There was no guarantee that a like-for-like service would be made available to residents should the Council cease to provide the Learning Online service. However, many of the courses offered by the Learning Online service were accessible from other providers operating in the Borough and online.
Reference was made to the number of customers who were currently registered with the Learning Online service. Officers clarified that there were 40 customers registered with the service and in various stages of training, although all would be on track to complete their studies by the end of the academic year in May 2023. Should the Council agree to cease to provide the service, then any potential customers who approached the Council in the future would be referred on to alternative providers. Information would also continue to be published on the Council’s website for signposting purposes.
During consideration of this item, Members were advised that if they were minded to cease to provide the Learning Online service, an additional proposal delegating authority to officers to undertake a piece of work to enable existing customers to complete their studies by the end of the academic year would need to be approved.
1) the Council cease to provide the Learning Online service by the end of the 2022/23 academic year; and
2) authority be delegated to the Head of Legal, Democratic and Property Services and the Head of Financial and Customer Services to undertake work to enable existing customers of the Learning Online Service to complete their studies by the end of the academic year.