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My ideal job, says new FE supremo

Within 12 hours of his appointment as lifelong learning minister, Bill Rammell was at a further education gathering in Parliament, declaring: "If you had asked me previously, I would have told you this is my ideal job."

The man who scraped home by 97 votes and three recounts to hold Harlow in the General Election knew how to win an audience. He wasted no time eulogising about colleges. "I passionately believe in extending education to everyone," he told the Association of Colleges at the launch of the 12th annual Beacon Awards.

There were a few wry comments from the floor. "Does that include all adult learners?" muttered one of the crowd. "Free at the point of delivery?"

asked another.

Undeterred (or maybe he never heard), Mr Rammell, who honed his social graces running university pubs for eight years (as National Union of Students worker and general manager of the University of London Union) knew just how to continue.

He praised the Beacon awards. "These colleges are involved in a project firmly established as a kite mark for the further education sector. Without the colleges, we cannot deliver for the country what we want to deliver. I hope we can take forward the agenda for change that is so important for the future of the country."

He is variously described as "affable", "likeable" and "a sharp cookie" by people who encountered him as Under Secretary at the Foreign Office and a former member of the education and Employment select committee in 2000.

John Brennan, AoC chief executive, was quick to welcome him. "I look forward to working with him on the full range of issues affecting the FE sector. We will be establishing a dialogue with the new ministers as soon as possible."

The reference to the full range of "issues" was a clear indication that the association was expecting a lot from the new ministers. Mr Rammell and the new Parliamentary Under-secretary Phil Hope face a sector growing increasingly hostile over cuts to adult learning.

Mr Hope replaces Ivan Lewis, who has gone to the Treasury as economic secretary (a post that requires him to keep in touch with FE). The Northampton East MP comes from the same stock as Mr Lewis - both were youth workers before turning to politics.

Alan Tuckett, director of the national organisation for adult learning, said: "We have been very impressed with Phil Hope wherever we have come across him. Three years ago, he spoke at a joint Niace and National Youth Agency programme for people not in education, employment or training. He was excellent at explaining to his audience how to make their case to politicians."

As economic secretary, Mr Lewis will still be involved in FE. There, he joins John Healy, also a former learning and skills minister, just as their boss and Chancellor Gordon Brown have announced plans to focus on improving the nation's skills.

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