Councils would push for tax windfall

Training and enterprise councils will make a pitch for the bulk of the promised windfall tax on public utilities if Labour wins the general election.

Most think there is little to fear from a victory for Tony Blair. At worst, TEC leaders think there is little to choose between the two main parties. But there are clear signs that at a local level, training chiefs in England and Wales are tired of the Tory administration.

Memories of underfunding in the early years of TECs have left a bitter taste. The decision this week to slash the TECs' cash from the competitiveness fund by #163;10m - to help to pay for the government climbdown over plans to scrap college growth funds - has confirmed in the minds of many that there will be no hope of new cash under the Tories.

A survey of one in five TECs in England and Wales was carried out by The TES through e-mail this week, as the cuts were announced, to assess what training chiefs would want from a new government.

Common themes emerged as TEC chiefs called for more money to catch the disaffected youths who slip through the training net and a clearer definition of their role as enterprise leaders. There is still concern that the TECs were created to promote enterprise and left mainly to mop up the unemployed with different "schemes".

Mike Nixon, chief executive of North London TEC, said: "Tony Blair is committed to TECs but it is vital that enterprise remains with TECs. We must convince any new government that training and enterprise are inextricably linked. "

A spokesman for Lincolnshire TEC said: "More resources are always welcome.There is a need to recognise the increasing costs of training and other support activities." Common to most survey replies was the call for more support for modern apprenticeships.

Most TECs said they had gained greater freedom for economic generation over the past five years. But, again, the shortage of resources to complete the tasks and burdensome bureaucracy were regularly mentioned. This was particularly so in rural areas which miss benefits such as city challenge cash.

More than half the TECs who replied called for a greater role for government regional offices in strategic planning. There was concern that the Tories, having set them up, used the offices as, in the words of one senior manager, "little more than mailing houses for central government dictats".

The willingness to embrace a more rigorous strategic planning framework bodes well for Labour. But all the TECs who replied said they wanted a continued prominent role "alongside local education authorities" with private industry as main players.

This reflected clear anxiety about Labour going too far in bringing TECs under control of local or regional government structures, rather than partners within them.

Most TECs are involved in school and college business links schemes from the primary years on. But about one-third of the survey group said they thought that 14 upwards was the age when TECs should play a prominent role in "bridging programmes" through from education through to training.

Mr Nixon said: "We back Dearing in his report of 14- to 16-year-olds and the importance of a strong partnership between LEAs and schools. TECs must ensure strong links between industry and education through education business partnerships and local boards."

Almost three-quarters of TECs surveyed said reform of welfare and unemployment benefits schemes was well overdue. There is considerable resentment among many that promises made by ministers proved to be little more than tinkering.

They were as stymied as colleges in their efforts to improve standards of training among the unemployed and groups, such as mothers looking to improve their skills and return to work.

The worst prospect, next to outright closure, would be marginalised of TECs as little more than "messengers" or "deliverers" of training programmes, losing their broader focus on enterprise.

The TECs were equally divided over whether they needed more stability. Recent confirmation from the Government - and a pledge from Labour - that TECs were a permanent part of the education and training infrastructure was described as helpful.

In every case where the need for greater stability was cited, lack of cash was seen as the main issue. This creates the greatest problem for Labour. A senior training manager said: "No one realistically expects much more cash from the Tories. But Labour has made the windfall pledge."

One chief executive concluded: "We have been given much by this government. We must be careful not to simply gripe. We must come up with evidence of what we need from whoever wins the election."

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