The New Deal was a "revolving door to hide our failure as a nation to skill our workforce," Phil Willis, the party's spokesman on education and employment, told delegates to the annual conference in Bournemouth. He said it should be replaced by a Flexible Guarantee for Jobseekers, a job search and placement service for all adults.
The Lib Dem's employment and training policy paper, Working for Success, also proposes the merger of the prospective Learning and Skills Council with the Higher Education Funding Council (England) into a single body, the Learning Council. This would provide a "scaffold of opportunity" enabling people to move easily between the two sectors, Mr Willis said.
The paper sets out proposals for "cradle to grave" individual learning accounts which Mr Willis said went "far beyond what the Government is planning". It also proposes an entitlement to training up to NVQ level 3 and means-tested loans for all adults. The two days a week of study leave would be available to all 16 to 19-year-olds, with a day a week available for those aged 20 to 24.
Bt delegates voted down an amendment which would have retained the party's long-standing commitment to compelling businesses to spend 2 per cent of their turnover on staff training.
Mr Willis lambasted companies who failed to invest in their workforce and "who think nothing of spending thousands of pounds on updating computer systems but fail to invest a penny in retraining". However, he said employers should be encouraged to spend more on personnel development through a process of "partnership not compulsion".
Delegate Roger O'Brien, from Streatham in south London, proposing the amendment, said there was a danger that "this is a policy of carrot and stick but with a very small stick...there must be an element of compulsion."
But delegates voted instead to support the proposal of the policy paper to give national training organisations the power to conduct sector by sector ballots on training levies. Successive speakers argued against the amendment, including David Griffiths, from Aylesbury, who said: "Further education is an investment for the benefit of the individual's quality of life and the nation's future - it could and should be fully financed through national taxation not through a stealth tax on small businesses."