Blunkett feels TEC anger in secret talks;FE Focus

9th July 1999 at 01:00
Jonathan Hunt and Ngaio Crequer report on reactions of Training and Enterprise Council leaders to the Government's White Paper.

TOP civil servants were told in plain Anglo-Saxon last week what some of the voluntary, unpaid directors of training and enterprise councils thought of the Government's post-16 White Paper.

Anger boiled over in the private sessions of the TEC national conference in Birmingham, especially when Department for Education and Employment officials told delegates that the current training infrastructure arrangements were "ramshackle."

There was exasperation that the "green edges" in the White Paper meant that TECs were having to respond, for apparent little gain to themselves, to the same questions for the third time in 12 months.

The White Paper proposes the abolition of the TECs and the Further Education Funding Council, to be replaced by a Learning and Skills Council.

The perception was strong that the Government was recreating the old manpower area offices with little strategic power being offered to business at the local level.

Some TEC leaders forecast a continuing future for Tecs under another name; others cannot yet see a meaningful role - and many are ready to call it a day. The more analytical believe Government got the vision and the structure right, but failed to think through the practicalities of delivery.

David Blunkett, Education and Employment Secretary, emerged shaken from a secret showdown with the national council. During the frank expression of views, south-east region and Thames Valley chairman Richard Ferre quit amid much emotion.

As a result, Mr Blunkett changed his prepared text to make a fighting yet conciliatory appeal to the 800 delegates. He asked them to join him in implementing the new plans. "My head is on the block as well as yours," he said.

The proposed national learning and skills council was "not a Leviathan" .

But while he talked of power for local directors, no unconditional concession was offered on a business majority on the new bodies, discretionary funding or a link with enterprise issues.

It is understood the DFEE is about to impose restrictions on how TECs spend their reserves - money set aside from efficiency savings to cover costs of closedown, including staff redundancy.

It is expected that the process of revoking TEC licences will soon begin, an action that would trigger sharp reactions. Existing TEC contracts will be renewed for only 18 months in October.

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