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Pulling the strings together

Cometh the hour, cometh the consortium. Arguably, the one that comprises Leicester's Education Business Links Organisation has been an EBLO-in-waiting for a decade.

In 1992, Leicestershire Education Business Partnership came together as a company limited by guarantee. It had a simple mission.

"We made a real effort to try to join up as much education business activity as we could," says Barbara Chantrill, the new chief executive of Leicester's Education Business Company. "We saw the light early."

It was brought back under Training and Enterprise Council control in 1999, but the Leicester consortium stayed intact for the dawning of the Learning and Skills Council. Setting it up had been Ms Chantrill's first job after she joined the TEC in 1990 from the Manpower Services Commission. She seems a natural for the chief executive's job, yet piecing together Leicester's Education Business Company is, she says, "like knitting a very complicated jumper" - an apt analogy in a city whose economy is based partly on hosiery.

Consortium members are many and varied: staff specialising in science, technology and maths; people from Young Enterprise and from the former Professional Placement Development Programme.

The consortium is in talks with Business Dynamics, formerly Un-derstanding Industry. The aim is to have a self-employed person in-house to promote Business Dynamics' service, which is to teach young people about the world of business. Leicester City Cluster, which provides vocational curriculum support to schools, has also been drawn in.

Barbara Chantrill is looking to achieve more coherece among the bodies under her wing.

"For instance, we are working with Leicestershire Careers and Guidance service, a consortium partner. We want a more joined-up approach between the service in relation to careers education in schools and colleges, and education business links undertaken by other consortium partners."

School-business links in Leicester are well established, not least through mentoring whereby 350 people are working with Years 9, 10 and 11. Plans are afoot to build on this by getting business volunteers to work with disadvantaged children with reading in primary schools.

The less red tape, the more likely things will run smoothly. Leicester has just one LSC and two education authorities to deal with - something Ms Chantrill admits has made life easier.

One challenge she faces is to build greater participation among the city's Asian community, which has spawned thriving businesses. "In terms of involving companies, the support has not been as strong as it might have been," says Chantrill. "So we now have on our board Mir Juma from the Leicestershire Asian Business Association. Asian businesses are very diverse; many are successful and we need to try to strengthen links."

So the more the merrier. Like any organisation, the Leicester consortium would like more money to broaden its funding base. It is now about 90 per cent LSC funded, but also has financial support from Europe and bodies such as Neighbourhood Renewal and the Single Regeneration Budget. "I think it's important to be able to demonstrate our partnership and use that as a lever," says Ms Chantrill.

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