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No bar on prison contract details

A long-awaited announcement on who will run teaching in a third of prisons is expected shortly, after a U-turn by the Learning and Skills Council.

The quango last week said Cabinet Office rules prevented it from revealing successful bidders until after the election.

After taking advice, it now says the winning tenders for the Offender Learning and Skills Service (OLASS) contracts in three pilot regions can be announced before polling day.

Colleges and other training outfits in the North-east, North-west, and South-west have been in limbo awaiting the announcement because they know their present contracts will expire at the end of July.

An LSC spokesperson said: "We received initial guidance that, in the general election period, the LSC should not make any announcement about the awarding of any major contracts.

"However, the LSC has sought further clarification and it has been confirmed that the LSC procurement can continue as originally scheduled.

The LSC is currently holding clarification meetings and will communicate the outcomes with all parties as soon as decisions are confirmed by the OLASS partnership boards in those regions."

Steve Taylor, director of Forum on Prisoner Education, said some bidders had been told the announcement would be no later than the end of next week.

OLASS - which provides mainstream education to inmates - is being piloted in the North-east, North-west, and South-west, with the other six regions due to follow in August 2006. It is the latest attempt to improve education standards and cut reoffending. The previous tendering process was suspended when it was decided the LSC should have a central role in running prison education - a move which had been called for by Natfhe, the lecturers' union.

Since 1990, responsibility for prison teaching has passed from councils to the Home Office, Department for Education and Skills and now the LSC.

Last month, a Commons education select committee report said, since 2001, the DfES had failed to significantly raise the priority given to prison education. It said a lack of "clarity of purpose" was hampering progress

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