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Don't let Ken run capital's colleges

Adult education guru warns that London would be 'disconnected'. Steve Hook reports

Allowing Ken Livingstone to take over post-16 education in London would lead to 18 months of unwarranted disruption, says the organisation which advises ministers on courses for adults.

Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, told FE Focus this week that it will support greater influence for the mayor as long as the Learning and Skills Council retains ultimate authority in the capital.

Niace last week lodged its response to Mr Livingstone's plans, under a review of the future of further education and lifelong learning in London being conducted by John Prescott, the deputy prime minister.

It says giving too much power to Mr Livingstone would risk leaving London "disconnected" from the rest of the country, although it acknowledged that the Great London Authority's economic development expertise would be valuable in assessing skills shortages in conjunction with industry.

The mayor's officials believe they are better equipped to work with businesses in London and they say the capital's needs are different in some respects to the rest of the country.

They say more emphasis is need in the capital on level 3 (A-level equivalent) and degree-level vocational qualifications.

Mr Livingstone believes vocational training is a vital part of the jigsaw which would enable him to carry out his responsibility for the economic future of the capital through the London Development Agency, which reports to him.

His plans, if they succeed, would loosen the Learning and Skills Council's grip as the quango responsible for government-funded post-16 education and training, excluding higher education.

The LSC has been in charge since 2001, when it took over from the Further Education Funding Council, also soaking up the training responsibilities of the training and enterprise councils.

Mr Tuckett said: "We believe that economic development and training should go hand-in-hand, but control is not the same as being hand-in-hand.

"We are in favour of a greater role for the mayor, short of control. London has a lot of adult unemployed and the question is how do you get people from where they are to the labour market.

"I don't think having a lot of reorganisation will help this. The LSC needs to be intrinsically linked with what is going on in London and, in that sense, I would leave things as they are."

Niace was working on the final wording of its response up to the deadline for Mr Prescott's consultation exercise this week.

Simon Beer, Niace's regional development officer for London, said: "I understand it would take about 18 months to change things over. We have got to have minimum disruption with maximum cohesion."

The LSC, defending its hold on London, has argued that it wants to work more closely with Mr Livingstone but without devolving responsibility to the GLA.

An LSC spokesman said: "The LSC has supported three of the four options proposed and has rejected the fourth option of a wholesale restructure with skills delivery in London devolved to the Mayor's office."

FERRET 2, Comment 4

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