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Shephard pledges help for lifetime learners

Ways to extend tax relief to people who want to improve their skills by further learning or training are being considered by the Department for Education and Employment.

Gillian Shephard, the Education and Employment Secretary, said in London this week that individuals must be helped to finance their learning.

One scheme she will be considering is allowing people to set up their own "training accounts", which employers could also contribute to.

This would allow people to save and earn interest on their savings which would be used to finance training without being taxed.

In a speech to the Conservative Education Association at the Carlton Club, she announced a major consultative document on lifetime learning which is expected next month.

And while Government sources said the department was keen to look at extending tax relief, it is unlikely that the plans will be ready for the current budget round.

Mrs Shephard will be meeting Martyn Waring, director of the National Advisory Council for Educational and Training Targets, next week.

He will be putting forward what he calls the "TESSA" training account which will allow individuals to save for future training and will also be looking at how people can take advantage of tax breaks to upgrade their skills.

Individuals who pay to take national vocational qualifications already receive tax relief at source and the department also provides career development loans for vocational training which are interest free if paid back within the permitted period.

It is this area the DFEE is looking to expand.

Mrs Shephard said: "We are on course towards a world-class education and training system, offering our young people the best chance to develop their capabilities.

"But our national competitiveness rests as much on the shoulders of those already in the workforce as it does on the shoulders of young people."

The Lifetime Learning initiative will feed into the Government's national aims for education and training.

The target for the year 2000 is to have 60 per cent of the workforce with either an NVQ level 3, advanced general national vocational qualification or two A-levels and 30 per cent to NVQ level 4 or above.

The Education and Employment Secretary is also interested in how new technology can be used to train the workforce.

She said that information systems now make courses in the style of the Open University more accessible and can allow workers to upgrade their skills without having to study in a college.

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