Vita Skills

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Vita Skills's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Vita Skills is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
Managing Director
Blackpool: a learning
People are denied opportunities in all kinds of ways, but for
many, and particularly for single parents, constraints on
time present one of the greatest obstacles. Manchester-
based Vita Skills is an organisation that has recognised this
situation better than most. When founded in 2014 by their
Managing Director, Emma Ridgeway, a decision was made
to provide educational and vocational opportunities to those
whose free time was constrained by everyday tasks of single
parenthood, as well as to those lacking confidence due to
previous failures in education. Vita’s main areas of focus are the
beauty and fitness sectors, and their tailored approach allows
students to fit their sessions around their personal lives with
both full-time and part-time classes at local centres and on the
internet. Emma tells
The Parliamentary Review
A shortfall in the market
In order for any business to be successful, it is first necessary to understand where
there is a deficiency in the market. For us, the deficiency was clear: in deprived
areas, too many people are denied opportunities to progress in life. For too many,
it is felt that single parenthood is an insurmountable obstacle to realising one’s
personal potential.
»Managing Director:
»Founded in 2014
»Based in Manchester
»Services: Education and
»No. of employees: 18
Vita Skills
We speak predominantly here of
younger mothers (although we cater
for others too). The situation become
intolerable in 2014 when adult loans
started, after which it was expected
that people over the age of 19 pay for
their own education. It’s worth adding
that, because many of our clients are
on various forms of unemployment
benefits, this scheme was not an
attractive option for them. Another
source of discomfort for our target
demographic is the age of students
who would surround them in a usual
college setting. Many of our clients
would not enjoy being around people
who are not yet in adulthood. Some
clients who had become isolated and
lacked confidence found the prospect
of walking into a large class too much
to overcome. As a result of all this,
colleges assumed that far fewer people
would apply for their courses.
Seeing this was the case, I decided
that more could be done to help both
the colleges and those who wanted
training. I therefore offered colleges
the opportunity for me to pilot the
new adult learner loan scheme, and
from there it snowballed into today’s
current instantiation: Vita Skills.
The extent to which we have grown,
matured and developed is remarkable
and, indeed, “outstanding” (as per
our Matrix assessment). Our progress
is also testified to by the fact that we
work closely with the Department
for Work and Pensions to help get
people back into work. Perhaps more
incredibly still, some of our students
have started up their own businesses
after studying with us.
Getting people back into
Essentially, we find people with
an interest in studying and getting
back into work (often through
local institutions), and then find an
appropriate path for them. Where
we specialise mostly is beauty and
fitness, both of which are thriving
industries. Many places offer this
service, but what makes us stand out
is that the timetables we operate on
allow for maximum flexibility. In this
regard, we teach from ten o’clock
Providing people with a
We also keep
class sizes
small to ensure
the maximum
experience for
all clients
Highlighting best practice
in the morning to three o’clock in
the afternoon, and we operate from
four different sites. This is a much-
appreciated arrangement for those
with children who need to be taken to
and from school. We also keep class
sizes small to ensure the maximum
learning experience for all clients,
while reducing the barrier for clients
who find large social gatherings
Another distinctive component of our
service is the level of engagement we
bring to our students. We not only
teach them theory in the classroom,
we also take them to London to see
shows and large expos. In doing this,
we’ve also managed to secure work
experience for many of our students,
in the course of which they have often
met famous people in the field. This
is not only fun in its own right, but it
also increases their passion for their
Challenges that need tackling
As is often the case, funding is a
problem for us. We find that the
government is too quick to change
the criteria, which – because of
our size and capacity – is difficult
to keep up with. This, in turn,
means that we cannot bid for work
directly, but instead we have to do
subcontract work. The problem with
this arrangement is that the council
(from whom we get much of our
work) will take a 20 per cent cut,
which is a significant opportunity cost
for us. This is money that could go
towards expanding and improving
the experience that we provide. It’s
perhaps because of confusions like
this that there is a shortfall in the
number of apprentices and that many
providers of training and education
have gone bust. Companies like
us simply cannot expect to plan
properly for the future when such
To help solve this, it’s necessary for
the government to involve smaller
companies like us more closely and to
communicate more clearly. To ensure
we don’t fall victim to such changes,
we ourselves try to keep in contact
with the council. For example, remit
over the adult education budget is due
to be passed over to councils, so we’ve
begun talks with Greater Manchester
to ensure that Vita Skills does not
become collateral damage in this
transition. We’re still not clear on what
will happen over the next 12 to 18
months, but we are nevertheless doing
our best to weather whatever storm
comes our way.
In any case, we look to the future
with a sense of optimism, and we
are even looking to start introducing
apprenticeships into our offering.
However, we plan to do this only in
small numbers because we do not
want to deviate too far from our
core competency: understanding
and catering to our local community,
and showing them how to fulfil their
It’s necessary
for the
government to
involve smaller
companies like
us more
closely and to
more clearly
Courses tailored to
everyone’s needs

This article was sponsored by Vita Skills. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister