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High salaries fail to woo council staff

National and local LSCs are struggling with 600 vacancies, reports Ngaio Crequer

THE Learning and Skills Council is struggling to fill key posts and the current vacancies may be damaging its performance.

The council, based in Coventry, has had difficulty in recruiting permanent staff, particularly in its finance department. The job of assistant director of financial policy, with a salary of pound;50-pound;60,000 was first advertised in April. A second advert appeared in July, with the salary at pound;55-pound;65,000. The job details contain two pages selling Coventry as a place to work and live.

The job of assistant director, financial accounting, also had to be re-advertised. There is also still a vacancy for an assistant director in internal ++communications. Other senior management posts have only just been filled, with staff starting in September.

In the next tier are 74 posts, with 47 filled and 27 vacant. One principal said: "They are struggling, even though they are paying good money." He said it was also starting to affect council work. "They are not up to speed on informing colleges about things like the Teaching Pay Initiative. They have had to put back deadlines."

Tim Boswell, shadow spokesman for further and higher education, pressed ministers about the staffing of both the national council, and the local learning and skills councils, before Parliament went into recess.

Margaret Hodge, the lifelong learning minister, said this was a matter for the LSC and she had asked its chief executive John Harwood, to write to Mr Boswell. Mr Boswell said, so far, he had not received an answer. He said:

"We have realised for some time that the LSC was running into recruitment difficulties. If it is to have a hope of fulfilling its very wide responsibilities it must be properly staffed. The situation does give rise to considerable concern."

A council spokesman said that some of the jobs were "under offer" and that it was planning a recruitment drive. Where there were vacancies, other staff were doing the work. The vacancies "obviously create some problems for us as an organisation but it is being managed. One of our priorities was to get local offices up and running and this has been successful".

"One of the things we are trying to do is to to get a good blend of experience, including people from the former Further Education Funding Council and the training and enterprise councils."

He said that the Coventry headquarters was intended to have around 500 staff, and there were currently 162 vacancies. Nationally, the Coventry headquarters and the 47 local learning and skills councils were to employ around 5,000 people: there are now some 600 vacancies.

London and the South-east were particularly affected. There was a surplus of staff in the North-east, and vacancies in the South-east.

This week, the council set ambitious new learning and skills targets. It also wants to raise the percentage of 16 to 18-year-olds in education and training from 75 to 80 per cent by 2004. It wants the number of 19-year-olds attaining a level 2 qualification (equivalent to five GCSEs grades A-C) to rise from 75 to 85 per cent.

Those with a level 3 qualification (two A-levels or equivalent) should go from 51 to 55 per cent.

The council said that the British were the least educated and lowest-skilled workforce in western Europe. But its plans would put Britain among the top countries by 2010.

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