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Reducing poverty will be main aim

Labour's Welfare to Work programme is expected to be the area of biggest change in post-school education and training provision, civil servants said this week.

Whatever the outcome of the Dearing inquiry into higher education, which is expected to recommend greater HE provision in the FE sector, colleges will be told their prime task is to help eliminate poverty and under-achievement among 18 to 25 year-olds.

A senior DFEE source told The TES: "It was made clear to us that 18-25 expansion will be the biggest area of growth which could affect FE colleges as much as the training and enterprise councils."

But this will rest wholly with the willingness of colleges to knuckle under to a regional planning structure. Ministers will leave colleges with the free hand given them when colleges were incorporated in 1993. But those which resist regional partnerships will get little growth cash out of Labour's new deal.

David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, signalled Labour's intention to "kick-start" a new phase of FE expansion just before the general election.

This has been helped by eliminating the Pounds 69 million "black hole" inherited when the Tories decided to pull the plug on the college expansion budget. It was brought about by a juggling of cash for FE and training allocated from the Pounds 12 billion Department for Education and Employment expenditure.

Plans for the regionalisation of FE and training will draw in all of Labour's key initiatives.

Colleges can also expect a more open approach from civil servants. Michael Bichard, the DFEE permanent secretary, said: "They will not be sitting around but getting out and doing the business with quangos, LEAs and others."

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