Empires topple;Leading Article;Opinion
Half a century ago, a key issue was the need to jack up the levels of technical education on which a post-war economy would depend. The anxiety as we approach the third millennium is over levels of skills and understanding among early school leavers, the socially excluded, and workers whose qualifications are of A-level standard and below. Failure at this level will mean economic failure in the global markets which depend on information and communication technologies.
The biggest lesson of the past 20 years is that such issues cannot be left to an unfettered market place. Competition and growth-at-all-costs must be tempered by co-operation and regulation. Corruption, incompetence and mismanagement in colleges and training and enterprise council programmes have recently been all too visible.
Above all, taxpayers' money should follow coherent education and training programmes that are of proven quality, are cost-effective and fit in with the overall national strategy. That is David Blunkett's aim in creating a single post-16 sector (excluding higher education) presided over by a Learning and Skills Council for England and a network of up to 50 local councils.
There will be cries of alarm as empires topple: Training and enterprise councils will go; colleges will be reined-in; local authorities will lose some powers to the new network of councils. Local partnerships will rule - no partners, no state cash. But Mr Blunkett is unlikely to lose much sleep over such matters. Where he could come unstuck is in convincing the Treasury to pump in even more cash than the pound;1 billion pledged last autumn, and in some of the detail. For example, there is a strong smell of freshly-made fudge surrounding the plans for equal funding for school sixth-forms and colleges.
Most worrying, though, is the fact that local discretionary powers will still leave the crucial but much-eroded community and youth services in a vulnerable state. Successive Tory governments scandalously neglected these services, and the young people they serve; Blunkett's task is to ensure that this week's proposals succeed in stopping the rot.