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Labour vows to set up Welsh skills forum

An incoming Labour government is pledged to set up a national education and training forum in Wales to tackle a worrying skills gap identified by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee last month.

The undertaking, by Win Griffiths MP for Bridgend and Labour's shadow education minister for Wales, comes at a time when there is growing concern over shortages of qualified staff - a deficiency that could threaten Wales' transition from heavy industry to high-tech undertakings such as the Pounds 1.7 billion development planned for Newport by the Korean electronics giant LG.

The report maintains that too many young people reach maturity without gaining any qualifications and that at post-16 level Welsh young people are outclassed by their English counterparts.

Three streams of funding - schools, colleges and training and enterprise councils - led to wasteful duplication. In some areas schools were funded to provide vocational courses already on offer at the local FE college.

"This is bizarre when both school and FE sectors are desperately short of funds," the report comments.

Although the Welsh Office was forecasting an increase in student numbers, FE funding was being frozen until the year 2000 at 1997 levels. The strain on colleges was particularly marked in smaller institutions serving rural communities.

Setting out Labour's proposals for an all-Wales forum, Mr Griffiths said: "A Labour Welsh Secretary will immediately call together representatives of all those responsible for post-16 education and training, industry, business and the development agencies."

The immediate object would be to identify needs and establish a partnership to close the skills gap.

Criticising the Government for allegedly treating FE as an underfunded Cinderella, Mr Griffiths pointed out that it took the Tories a decade to realise that they were at fault for destroying traditional apprenticeships. "Only in the last few years have they realised the error of their ways by promoting modern apprenticeships and introducing attainment targets for educational skills qualifications," he said.

There was a need for strategic guidance at an all-Wales level with regional co-operation in the achievement of targets and the cost-effective delivery of post-16 education and training.

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