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Pledges sought on TECpertise

When training and enterprise councils are wound up, will the plans they inspired die with them? Harvey McGavin reports.

MINISTERS have been warned that crucial projects to help employees develop their skills are at risk.

Leaders of the training and enterprise councils fear that dozens of their important and imaginative schemes will be lost next April when the new learning and skills councils take over the TECs' training role.

The projects have been set up using TECs' discretionary funding. While the 47 local learning and skills councils will also be able to spend between 10 and 15 per cent of their budget as they choose, the money will be expected to cover eight areas of "non-core activity" in addition to "workforce development".

And government officials are thought to be considering ring- fencing some of this cash, leaving less for continuing TEC-initiated schemes.

The council says that TECs have built a strong track record over the past 10 years of bringing together partners, designing projects to meet skills and training needs, preparing business plans and bids for funding, and "pump priming" schemes with investment from their own discretionary funding.

In their submission to ministers, the council said: "The issue is not simply one of funding. A significant human resource of expertise and experience in local economic development, both strategic and and practical, has been built up in TECs and chambers of commerce. This training and enterprise may be lost under the new arrangements. We need to be certain that the expertise at a local level is retained. On current evidence, this is by no means guaranteed."

Tyneside TEC has built up a reputation for innovation using discretionary funding to prepare young people for work. These range from interactive CD-Roms for five-year-olds taking them on a tour of local industries to a booklet on labour market opions for every 16-year-old school-leaver and a website with regularly updated job details and direct links to 1,000 employers in the area.

"We try to prepare young people effectively with the information, attitudes and skills they need for the world of work," said Olivia Grant, the TEC's chief executive. "We have always thought that it was part of our remit right from day one. It is difficult to see how new councils will pick this up. But I will hope they will want to build on it."

TEC leaders say that without their support, high-profile projects like the Tamar Science Park and the Eden environmental centre, both in economically depressed Cornwall, would not have got off the ground.

Lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks answered some of their concerns last month when he said he would "look again" at Clause 16 of the Learning and Skills Bill which covers workforce development and introduce an amendment within the next fortnight.

During the committee stage of the Bill, he told MPs: "I propose to table an amendment to the clause ... that local LSCs will develop integrated local workforce development plans, building on the important preparatory work being carried out by TECs."

Mr Wicks said workforce development was an "explicit component" of the Government's learning and skills strategy, quoting a Department for Education and Employment survey that had shown two-thirds of employees would choose a job paying 5 per cent less if it had formal training opportunities and that 84 per cent of employees sought off-the-job training which they saw as "important" or "very important".

"We made it very clear from the outset that one of the driving forces behind our reforms of post-16 learning was the recognition that, in a knowledge driven economy, the continuous updating of skills and development of people in work and out of work will make the difference."

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