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Bill bother behind scenes

Rift could lead to new FE Bill being drafted or Leitch's conclusions being ignored, says Tory shadow minister

The Tory shadow minister for FE has accused the education secretary of a rift with the Treasury.

John Hayes said in his speech to the Conservative National Education Society last week the FE Bill should not have been published before the outcome of Lord Leitch's review of skills shortages.

He said Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, had said that he did not expect to change the Bill in the light of the Treasury commissioned report on the future of skills in Britain.

Mr Johnson told the House of Commons when the Bill was announced: "We do not see a need to wait for Leitch before the Bill.

"Indeed, we think that Leitch's report will make such radical proposals that there will need to be a further period of consultation. I doubt very much whether there is anything in Leitch that will necessitate our changing the Bill."

Mr Hayes said there was a power struggle which would mean either that Leitch's conclusions would be ignored or that a new FE Bill would have to be drafted.

He said: "Is the Leitch report going to be kicked into the long grass never to be heard of again? Or are we going to have another FE Bill next year? It seems there are two agendas going on in the Government which are impossible to reconcile.

"The rift between the Department for Education and Skills and the Treasury means the Government is ducking vital issues that Leitch was meant to raise."

The shadow minister, who trained as a history teacher, said the Bill had failed to address the issue of where extra investment would come from, even though it was expected to be one of Leitch's most important themes.

He also criticised the extra powers to sack senior staff, which the Bill gives to the Learning and Skills Council, and said it encroached further on colleges' freedom.

"At best, the Bill is a wasted opportunity, at worst a regressive step, tightening bureaucrats' suffocating grip on FE," he said.

The DfES declined to comment.

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