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New skills body to grow

hard on the heels of the Government's announcement of its skills strategy for Scotland (TESS, September 14), another shake-up in training was unveiled last week by John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth.

As part of a package of reforms to Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Mr Swinney said the two agencies would lose most of their major responsibilities for training. These will be transferred to the new skills body which will be formed from the merger of Careers Scotland and learndirect scotland. The enterprise bodies will be restricted to training which is specific to business, such as leadership development and mentoring.

Another significant element of these plans, which will have an impact on colleges, is the abolition of the 21 local enterprise companies (Lecs) and their replacement by six regional operations. Local authorities are to be given an enhanced role in local economic development, it is envisaged.

This will force colleges to change their own governance arrangements since all FE boards of management are obliged to have a Lec representative.

"We will need to ensure that colleges still have a close relationship with their local enterprise companies, whatever shape that may take in the future," a spokesman for the Association of Scotland's Colleges said.

Mr Swinney argued his reforms were driven by the aim of "reducing bureaucracy and streamlining local enterprise development delivery", allowing the national enterprise agencies to concentrate on national economic priorities.

But Labour and the Liberal Democrats begged to differ. Tavish Scott, a minister in the former coalition, pointed out that Mr Swinney was replacing 21 Lec operations with 48 new national, regional and sub-regional boards, and that "less has become more".

The plans also came under fire from a "disappointed" STUC. Grahame Smith, its general secretary, commented: "Separating responsibility for skills and business support will only undermine efforts to improve Scotland's poor record in skills utilisation.

"The link between economic development and skills should ensure that training interventions are designed with the requirements of the labour market in mind."

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