How to find MPs and influence them

Michael Foster gained the accolade of "the world's most lobbied MP" with his recent anti fox-hunting Bill. He is now hoping to go one better with a seminar to launch an awareness-raising programme next week on how to lobby politicians successfully for improved further education.

The Worcester MP and former further education lecturer will be joined by Lord Graham Tope, the new Liberal Democrat peer for a seminar, "Making the most of your parliamentary contacts", on the first day of the Association of Colleges' conference in Harrogate next week.

Both are members of the Parliamentary FE Group, a pressure group to fight the corner of colleges in both Houses. The organisation expanded rapidly to 110 members following the 1997 election and big intake of MPs with an FE background.

But leaders of the group argue that the sector needs greater awareness of how to promote its interests more effectively against the equally pressing demands of schools and universities.

A spokeswoman for the AOC said: "This seminar and campaign is an important new step for the AOC. We are marshalling our strength to influence MPs and peers locally, regionally and nationally."

Three leading members of the group (below) describe their own interests in FE and look at the major issues confronting the sector which are to be debated in Harrogate.

Mr Foster said: "I taught for six years at Worcester College of Technology before becoming an MP and know how much the sector needs support. Now we have a Secretary of State with an FE background, this is the most opportune time to make a pitch for FE."

As a Worcester branch official for the college lecturers' union NATFHE, Mr Foster successfully negotiated a local union deal for staff at a time when national industrial relations were at the nadir. "I know from personal experience the trials and tribulations of the last five years.

He now wants a united voice for the sector, building on the style of co-operation epitomised by the joint AOC\NATFHE lobbying around last year's national AOC conference.

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