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Editor's Comment

The Government warned there would be tough choices and now the axe has fallen on adult education. Colleges have little choice but to accept it.

The Treasury is effectively broke and ministers have limited cash with which to hit immediate skills training targets.

But how did the Government get into a position where around 500,000 adult learning places in colleges could disappear over two to three years? Many of these people are neither ready nor able simply to switch to skills training.

This week, Ruth Kelly made clear her irritation with employers for investing too little in training. The Education Secretary told a private meeting of the CBI she was glad that it and other employer organisations supported the Government's skills agenda. However, she insisted, member organisations must pay more.

Her plea comes very late in the day. The Government should have tackled workplace training eight years ago, when it came to power. Instead, it uttered weasel words about creating a "post-voluntarist" culture.

Delays in tackling the issue have proved expensive. The national rollout of the education and training pilots and other state-funded subsidies for the private sector are very costly at a time when cash is shorter than it has ever been since 1997.

This is a Labour Government doing what you expect a Labour Government to do - investing more money in learning and skills. It is increasing the cash and setting priorities. Unfortunately, the Government is responding overwhelmingly to employer demand - and paying for it. But how do ministers know they are not over-providing for skills? It is for industry to decide whether more electrical engineers or plumbers are needed. Industry should also pay for it, while having the authority to crack the whip at colleges and other providers when it comes to quality and training course content.

There is a danger that this government will become a huge recruitment agency for industry, while failing to address the wider needs. One thing is certain. In three to four years, there will be a need for a huge boost in adult recruitment. Will the infrastructure be there to meet that need?

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