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Strategy for skills stalled again

Publication of the long-awaited skills strategy White Paper has been delayed until the last days of Parliament before the summer recess.

Ministers were quick to stress that this did not signal a retreat from radical reforms aimed at improving the nation's skills for work.

Ivan Lewis, adult education minister, told FE Focus: "It just reflects the amount of Commons work still to be done. We hope to have it out by early July."

He said, however, that the White Paper would be "green round the edges" as there was still "much work in progress". For example, policy ideas were still being tested through the employment training pilots, which offer incentives to train staff.

"These incentives have just been increased from six to 12 and we want to see what is most effective. Has it been compensating employers for lost working hours; better information, advice and guidance services; bespoke training courses or what? Some have been attracted by the statutory requirement because of health and safety needs."

Margaret Hodge, further and higher education minister, said the skills strategy could not be ready as planned for June 26.

"All these documents are subject to delays. We just need more time to get it right. It will be next month some time but I don't know when," she said.

Another government source said: "Don't expect White Paper reforms to be too radical. There are some big ideas but they are not yet fit for policy. This is more to do with setting an agenda for the next manifesto than immediate action."

But delays in tackling wider issues had also hampered development of the White Paper. Ministers were wary of unions' demands to force companies to train their staff. There was also continued haggling over how much control should be devolved to the regions.

David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "If there are things in the strategy which need to be implemented urgently, then we need to know at the beginning of the holidays, so we need to see it in the early part of July."

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