A few thorns in rose country
When John Korzeniewski crossed the Pennines to become the funding chief for further education in the North-west, he made a startling discovery: the Wars of the Roses may have ended more than 500 years ago, but the old rivalry lives on among Lancastrians.
The Yorkshire miner's son, now north-west regional director of the Learning and Skills Council, found that the Battle of Bosworth Field was revisited at many functions he attended in his new role.
"At every dinner, there is always one speaker who refers to Yorkshire men having thick heads and strong arms," said Mr Korzeniewski. "The Yorkshire-Lancashire rivalry was something I never encountered in Yorkshire. It surprised me."
The ribbing he has suffered about his white rose roots has not, however, dimmed his passion for revolutionising further education on the red rose side of the Pennines.
The former executive director of South Yorkshire LSC said: "A strong and vigorous FE sector can provide the answer to most of the region's problems.
What is going to make a difference is improving the level of vocational skills. That is what's going to make us competitive."
The North-west includes Cheshire, Warrington, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Greater Merseyside and Lancashire. It is the fourth largest of the nine regional economies in the UK, and the largest outside the South-east. It has a gross added value of pound;78 billion, with recent growth fuelled by high levels of consumer confidence.
Mr Korzeniewski pointed out, however, that the inherent weakness is that this growth is often in service sectors, that add little value, requiring low skills and offering low wages.
Service and construction industries are buoyant, driven partly by the renaissance of the region's urban centres, particularly in Manchester and Liverpool.
But if the LSC is to play a major part in the continued regeneration of the region, there is one battle he must first win. That is the power struggle with the LSC's main partner, the North West Regional Development Agency.
Before Mr Korzeniewski moved to the region, the agency had suggested to the Department for Education and Skills that it should take over planning and funding from the LSC.
It has overall responsibility for the development of skills and tried to take over control of the budget from the LSC. The LSCobjected.
"There has been discord between the LSC and the agency," he said. "But partnership is something I want to bring to the North-west.
"The more we work in partnership and use our money in the right way, the better facilities we get for our students.
"There is a national agreement for us to work together. Part of my job is to make that work. I want my people to focus on making that work and not arguing about who does what. If you get into arguments you will forget the learner.
"In South Yorkshire, what I learned is that by setting down what we have in common, we generally come up with the right solutions. We are clearly leading on skills in post-16 education but to deliver, we have to take people with us."
He is fortunate, he admitted, in moving into an area blessed with many high-performing colleges. "We have got some really good ones," he said. "No colleges are really struggling. The challenge is to get the ordinary ones to become very good. In South Yorkshire, half the colleges were causing serious concerns. That has not been the case here.
"There is no college where we say, 'This is a basket case and we will have to close it down', as we had to do in South Yorkshire."
His patch includes colleges such as Knowsley and South Cheshire, where leadership and management have been rated outstanding by Ofsted.
Mr Korzeniewski also cited the two colleges in Oldham, Runshaw college in Leyland, Bury college, the Liverpool community college, and Mancat as further examples of good practice.
"I am very passionate about seeing colleges move on. We are trying to make colleges more prosperous by trying to get companies to spend more of their training budgets in colleges," he said. "We are interested in getting colleges to put a proper value on what they are offering so employers will take and pay for it. Too often colleges have sold things on the cheap."
Mr Korzeniewski wants colleges to acquire Centre of Vocational Excellence status in more curriculum areas to attract business, and is planning to expand the CoVE programme to develop provision that is tied more closely to the needs of industry.
He added: "We need to use our CoVE network to change the behaviour of colleges, so we can get them to take a proper contribution from employers."