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Action needed to prevent Britain lagging behind in skills

As the Treasury prepares to publish the results of the Leitch review of skills in the UK, the Scottish Executive got its retaliation in first.

The review, commissioned by Chancellor Gordon Brown and due to be published this week to coincide with his pre-Budget statement, is expected to be a strong wake-up call to improve basic skills, particularly of the working population.

But ministers north of the border chose this week to issue a positive message that Scotland is "among the best in the world for skills and learning".

According to Nicol Stephen, the Deputy First Minister with responsibility for learning, the latest annual update on the executive's lifelong learning strategy demonstrated that "our well qualified workforce is right up there with the top OECD nations".

Figures showed that, with more than 50 per cent of people qualified to further education level or above, Scotland is on a par with the United States and ahead of Finland, New Zealand and Ireland. But Mr Stephen said continued investment in education and learning would be vital to Scotland's future success, a message which is more in tune with the Leitch review.

Carried out by Lord Leitch, former managing director of Zurich Financial Services and a Fifer like the Chancellor, the review was due to issue a stark warning that action has to be taken by 2020 if low skill levels are not to leave Britain as a whole trailing behind our global competitors.

Figures in his report are expected to show that more than a third of adults do not have a basic school-leaving qualification, double the proportion of Canada and Germany; that five million people have no qualification at all; and that one in six do not have the literacy skills of an 11-year-old, while half are not at that level for functional numeracy.

Despite substantial investment and reform, Lord Leitch has said "by 2020, we will have managed only to 'run to stand still'".

Leitch review: details next week

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