Editor's comment

28th October 2005 at 01:00
The heavy hand of bureaucracy is once again weighing down on further education - just a month after the Learning and Skills Council pledged to slash administration costs and divert pound;40 million into teaching and learning.

How can ministers justify a proposal to spend up to pound;70m on "brokers"

or go-betweens in their efforts to put employers in touch with colleges and training companies? (Page 1) All the evidence, according to the Government, is that he new work-skills training programme - to be called Train2Gain - is ready to roll.

How can this be if ministers lack confidence in the ability of all the players to get on with it unfettered?

Light-touch monitoring, yes. But where is the evidence that brokers are needed? Or that they will be any more effective in making links than the training providers? If anything, they could be worse. There has been a constant stream of complaints throughout the Employer Training Pilots - which spawned Train2Gain - that brokers, when used, are anything but impartial and efficient.

If individual companies, colleges and training firms really need help, there should be someone on hand to give it. Then a large slice of the pound;670 million allocation to 2008 will be available for this.

Anyway, who monitors the middlemen? Are there parallels and warnings in the finance industry?

The inexorable rise of the independent financial adviser and broker has seen a huge expansion in agencies such as the Financial Services Agency and National Audit Office - at considerable public cost.

This bureaucratic cost on Train2Gain sends all the wrong messages at a time when colleges are being exhorted to increase by half the fees they charge for adults on courses outside government priorities.

There are striking similarities in the way the decisions on fees and brokerage seem to be arrived at.

Neither was properly tested for market impact, nor were consultations adequate, say those who will provide the training.

It is not enough for ministers to say a Mori poll shows overwhelming public support for increased fees if adults vote with their feet instead.

Nor will cash spent on brokers guarantee improvements in the quality of workplace training. One big question needs answering: where is the evidence?

Ministers are resting everything of the power of Train2Gain to transform skills of people at work. To succeed, every penny has to be spent where it counts - on the training.

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