Editor's Comment

24th September 2004 at 01:00
Memories of race and youth riots are all too fresh in the minds of people in Bradford and Brixton. Whereas, in Leicester, peace has reigned since the National Front was seen off in the 1970s. Adult and community education has played a vital role. It was the first thing called for by local leaders in the strife-torn city centres.

The powerful influence of the voluntary sector in areas like Leicester, with large ethnic minority populations, has not gone unnoticed.

The best workers in the field are professional, dedicated and know the local people and the trouble spots. So, the message from Tony Blair and his ministers is that the sector nationally will play an increasingly central role in community affairs.

Why, then, does Leicester City Council want to axe 40 voluntary groups, many of which provide education to thousands of adults? The main reason, as we report on page 1, is to balance the budget. But, if they have to make cuts, what makes this area so expendable? Is it because the groups are not up to the job and are poor value for money? If so, the answer is to help improve the service, not chop it.

Where too is the joined-up government we are constantly promised? The fall-out from city council cuts will hit other post-16 services, leaving the Learning and Skills Council to foot the bill at the expense of colleges and others.

Community education leaders have given local government strong backing as continuing providers of adult learning. Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing education, said recently: "It would be wrong to shift resources from local government because of its capacity for economic regeneration and joined-up policy with arts, libraries, museums and social services." Is he still right?

Also, where is the democracy? Leicester council's education scrutiny committee voted against the cuts, suggesting the majority of councillors oppose them. But the final decision was in the hands of the increasingly influential Cabinet-style leadership.

Having been ordered by the High Court to continue funding six groups who contested the cuts, Leicester will try again. But many local leaders predict trouble Bradford and Brixton-style if the council succeeds.. As Ross Willmott, chair of the scrutiny committee says, "The council will have destroyed the community structure." It is a warning to heed.

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