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Delay on strategy for skills attacked

MPs this week accused the Government of dragging its feet over the planning of skills training and vocational education.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education and skills committee, suggested the "elitist and, some would say, snobbish" Department for Education and Skills is keeping vocational skills on the back-burner.

Adult skills minister Ivan Lewis, who appeared before the committee on Wednesday, came under fire for the pace of change.

MPs are concerned at the timing of the announcement on the national skills strategy, which is expected in June next year - more than two years after the Learning and Skills Council was launched.

And there is mounting frustration over the replacement for individual learning accounts, which is now due to be announced at the same time, more than 18 months after the scheme was scrapped.

Mr Sheerman said: "You have already got a national skills strategy. You have got the biggest quango, the LSC, which was set up to be in charge of it. What could a national skills strategy add?

"The Government says it will say what it is going to do in June. You would think a group of well-intentioned people could be locked in a country house and come out with a strategy."

Mr Lewis said he agreed skills needed a higher priority but stressed the Government's target of 50 per cent participation in higher education includes vocational programmes.

He said: "There must be a coherent, lifelong-learning approach to skills. The 50 per cent will include people who are training on vocational courses. Having this goal brings us into line with most competitor countries. The real issue is how we can increase staying on beyond 16."

The Chancellor's pre-budget report has attracted pound;130m to extend employer training pilots. A quarter of all employers will be reimbursed the full wage costs if they release staff to attend courses during working hours.

A new employer-led Modern Apprenticeships taskforce was also announced. It will be headed by Roy Gardner, chief executive of Manchester United.

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