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Basic skills courses may suffer in cash squabble

MINISTERS are wrong to squeeze local authorities out of adult literacy expansion, Paul Williamson, Edinburgh's education convener, has protested.

He spoke after Alasdair Morrison, the deputy Lifelong Learning Minister, confirmed that FE colleges and voluntary organisations are to pick up pound;16 million of the pound;22.5m pot that will boost adult literacy programmes over the next three years. Local authorities will be left to scrap over the remaining pound;6.5m.

Mr Williamson has urged ministers to reconsider and allow for local partnerships in line with traditional patterns of provision. That would require more substantial investment through authorities than ministers anticipate.

In August, Henry McLeish, then Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, complained bitterly that authorities had not prioritised basic education in their community education programmes and pledged "a multi-million pound budget" to address the needs of an estimated one in five Scots who lack basic life skills.

But Mr Williamson believes the Scottish Executive route for delivering its strategy overlooks local circumstances.

He welcomed the apparent U-turn by ministers on spending, even if the pound;6.5m was inadequate. Authorities originally believed they would have no allocation. "I see no reason why the money should be limited," he said.

"In Edinburgh the local authority leads the adult literacy strategy, working alongside the further education colleges and voluntary sector. We have a nationally respected ABE team and the community education review is aiming to use the specialist team to extend work into every community in the city. This requires additional resources and is a central part of community learning plans," he said.

Mr Williamson believed that the city's strategy would be undermined b excluding local authorities. "It will also undermine our partnership with the colleges and voluntary sector and the question has to be asked why authorities are being excluded when in many parts of Scotland they play an essential role," he said.

Edinburgh, the convener pointed out, has helped produce the national training pack on basic skills and registered 1,300 students on free courses, supported by up to 50 paid tutors and more than 100 volunteers. Most students are unwaged, with one in four from ethnic backgrounds. One in five has learning disabilities. Equal numbers of male and female students sign up for reading, writing, numeracy and lip-reading tutorials.

Mr Williamson accepted the new national resources would make a substantial difference but defended the authority's role in helping adult learners.

"The majority of people who are ready to access further education colleges have already taken a clear decision to return to education but much of adult literacy is about identifying people with particular needs, building up self-esteem and encouraging them to take up the opportunities available. Local authorities and the voluntary sector are in a much better position to do this than FE colleges," he said.

Edinburgh would have expected up to pound;2m as its share of the national fund if the cash had been distributed through the authorities. It spends up to pound;500,000 on core staffing, courses and projects.

A Scottish Executive spokesman, however, insisted councils still had a significant role in expanding adult literacy programmes and would have 10.5 per cent more cash in their coffers over the next three years to spend on their priorities.

The national adult literacy 2000 team was devising ways to deploy resources and was due to report before Christmas.

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