Editor's comment

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Ruth Kelly had a 30-page briefing from her advisers before addressing the launch of Adult Learners' Week in London. Did she bother to read it? If she did bother, did she understand it? You would not think so, judging from her comments, reported on page 3.

For the Education Secretary to say colleges did not have to make these cuts is just plain wrong. If colleges were slow to increase fees, it is because they were led to believe such demands would be phased in. Had colleges asked for fees on the scale the Education Secretary proposes, there would have been far more than 200,000 adult learning places lost this year. There is no easy fee-charging policy to compensate for the shift in government priorities. To blame colleges is cheap.

Ms Kelly's adult skills minister Phil Hope seems to have done a little more homework. He calls for a careful look at these issues at local level. Even so, he offers no prospect of any short-term easing of policies or cash shortages that have helped create the problems.

This is not the only difficult area for the Government. If there is no more cash for adults, there can be no extra cash for lecturers' pay. On the eve of lecturers' union Natfhe's annual conference in Eastbourne, the message is grim. Deep frustrations emerged in an interview with the general secretary Paul Mackney who warns that a national strike is looming because of the Government's repeated failures to address the pay gap with schoolteachers (page 1).

Why should this be? If the Welsh Assembly can find the money, why can't English ministers? Who does Ms Kelly blame for this failure? The same colleges that she blames for the adult learning crisis, presumably.

Both these problems over lecturers' pay and policies for adult learners share the same cause - a refusal to spend enough on clearly-identified priorities in the first place. It is a great pity since Labour in government - after a slow start - produced radical and innovative policies for a new learning and skills sector. But, as cannot be repeated too often, record cash increases were outstripped by record demands.

Now, Ms Kelly has a choice, at the start of this government's third term.

Either she goes back to the Treasury with demands for clearly identified priorities or she presides over an increasingly depressing period of unrest.

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