Education Minister intervenes to defuse dispute over 'conflict of interest' in regulating SVQs
A public row has broken out between City and Guilds and the Scottish Vocational Education Council after the London-based body accused the Scottish organisation of monopolising the market in vocational qualifications north of the border.
City and Guilds, which claims to be the UK's largest body for vocational qualifications, is also accusing the Government of perpetuating a "conflict of interest" through the new Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, has now stepped in and offered a meeting to calm fears.
The SQA, which takes over responsibility for all school and post-school qualifications in 1997, will decide which organisations are fit to offer Scottish Vocational Qualifications as well as being an awarding body itself.
City and Guilds clearly sees a threat to its plans for expansion in Scotland. It opened an office in Edinburgh last September and aims to market itself as the only body accredited to offer both English and Scottish qualifications.
Paul Wates, chairman of City and Guilds, has protested to the Scottish Secretary that Scotvec's authority to license qualifications gives "direct access to the detailed proposals submitted by competing awarding bodies".
City and Guilds also complains that the SQA's remit could extend beyond Scotland. The Scottish Office denies that the authority would be in a position to compete with the National Council for Vocational Qualifications.
Mr Wates, who has called on the Scottish Office to set up an independent National Accrediting Body, is particularly concerned that Scotvec is limiting accreditations in the run-up to the new authority taking over. Mr Wates claims this would be "extremely threatening".
Mr Robertson rejected such fears when he appeared before the Lords select committee that took evidence on the Education (Scotland) Bill in Glasgow this week (page three). The legislation puts the SQA on a statutory footing, unlike Scotvec, and he believed this offered improved protection.
Officials pointed out that the accreditation committee of the new authority would have a majority of members who were neither members nor employees of the SQA and would have to operate under guidelines laid down by the Secretary of State. Mr Robertson added: "If the Secretary of State believes anybody has been nobbling the committee he has the power to order them to back off."
Tom McCool, Scotvec's chief executive, said in his evidence to the committee: "There is no obstacle to City and Guilds, the Royal Society of Arts or anyone else offering SVQs or more traditional qualifications, and nothing in the Bill will prevent that from continuing."
Mr McCool said the role of Scotvec was to "kitemark" qualifications to ensure they conformed to an objective standard, criteria for which have to be approved by the Secretary of State. City and Guilds had been accredited to offer 130 SVQs in the past year "without any difficulties during that process". A further 32 independent bodies had qualifications accredited, making a total of 300 qualifications from other organisations accredited by Scotvec.
There are currently 108 SVQ-awarding bodies, including Scotvec, of which 75 are joint enterprises between Scotvec and others.