Call to cut quango funds to boost skills training

1st May 2009 at 01:00
Commission wants more spent on education front line to meet UK's ambitions to be world class

The budgets of quangos should be slashed and the money put into frontline training to stop the UK falling behind its competitors, the head of the Government's skills advisory body has said.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills will say in its first annual report, due on Thursday, that much more needs to be done if the ambition to be "world class" in skills by 2020 is to be met.

It is expected to say that Lord Leitch's targets will not be met at the current rate of progress, and that even if they were, the UK would still not make it into the top eight developed nations for skills because other countries are progressing faster.

With spending due to be tightened as government debt soars, the UK needs to divert more money into frontline education and skills provision to maintain and increase the numbers in training, according to Chris Humphries, chief executive of the commission.

He told FE Focus that the commission planned to calculate the entire cost of what Sir Andrew Foster called the "galaxy of oversight, inspection and accreditation bodies" to work out what could be cut to open up new training places.

"We aim to find out how much money is taken out of the system by all these organisations before it gets to providers," Mr Humphries said.

"Let's assume it's 25 to 30 per cent - and I don't believe it's that low - but even if it's 15 to 20 per cent, on a budget of pound;6 billion that's still up to pound;1.2bn."

Running the Learning and Skills Council costs more than pound;200m a year, the Learning and Skills Improvement Service has a budget of pound;145m and Becta, the education technology agency, receives pound;59m.

David Collins, president of the Association of Colleges, said: "We are going to see times when funding is obviously very tight and we would like to see as much as possible going to the front line rather than into support services."

Reducing the burden of scrutiny on colleges - by auditing those with good financial management less intensively, for example - would also mean colleges could put more of their budgets directly into teaching rather than support staff, he said.

Colleges may also look at sharing human resources or information technology services to make savings.

The commission itself has a budget of over pound;90m and a staff of about 100 in London and Yorkshire, although pound;76m is passed on to the 25 sector skills councils.

It was set up a year ago, following Lord Leitch's 2006 review, to "depoliticise" the skills agenda and generate a lasting consensus that would allow policy to be developed with an eye to the long-term 2020 goals.

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