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Exclusion at the top level

Many college leaders feel miffed over the top appointments to the new quangos created under the the Learning and Skills Act. They are right to do so.

The only person with the essential experience is Stephen Grix, a former principal who is now chief FE inspector at Ofsted. This is not to denigrate the other appointees: the calibre of all these people is beyond dispute.

John Harwood starts as chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council with a proven track record for original thinking. As chief executive for Oxfordshire County Council, he proposed part-payment of staff salaries in supermarket and child-care vouchers to cut the cost of National Insurance contributions which are paid only on cash remuneration. More to the point, he resolutely resisted John Prescott's efforts to slash council spending when Labour won power in 1997. John Harwood can be expected to give the same robust defence of post-16 spending in short times.

Nick Reilly, former head of Vauxhall and chair of the Training and Skills Council, takes over as chair of the Adult Learning Inspectorate, retaining a formidable alliance with David Sherlock, the TSC chief inspector, who becomes chief for the Ault Learning Inspectorate. It was Mr Reilly who last year successfully intervened to persuade Downing Street not to let Chris Woodhead run the entire inspection show through Ofsted.

And then there's the new youth and careers advice service, Connexions. This is lead by Anne Weinstock, one of the sharpest operators fighting social exclusion.

But the pedigree of them all is largely Training and Enterprise Council, private and voluntary sector or local authority. Were ministers and their headhunters really at a loss to find anyone of worth from colleges? It is not only the national scene that is dominated in this way. The dearth of college representatives on the 47 local skills councils is even more striking.

And the reason is clear. The Government intends - through the White Paper, its drafting of the Bill and passing of the Act - to create a new environment. That means a new group of people to promote a philosophy of partnership. Yet the biggest and most significant players by far in such partnerships are the local colleges. They may not be running the quangos, but unless they are properly supported at the centre of things, the whole enterprise will founder.

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