LOCAL enterprise companies have been told they must "co-operate as never before" to make the maximum impact on economic development and training.
Henry McLeish, the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, also reminded the LEC networks and board members of the parent Scottish Enterprise agency at their conference in Falkirk last week that "learning and skills development (are) at the heart of economic development".
In May Scottish Enterprise launched its "know-how" strategy whose slogan is "achieving prosperity through learning". This is essentially an amalgam of previously announced targets, such as increasing the number of modern apprentices, improving training for small businesses, establishing the Scottish University for Industry and creating individual learning accounts.
Mr McLeish's speech, however, was a reminder for the enterprise bodies that they have to work with others if they are to widen access to training and education, which he said is "the top priority for 2000 and beyond".
FE colleges have long complained that local training could be delivered more effectively if they held the budgets currently allocated to the LECs.
There are 300 bodies involved in delivering economic development and training and duplication will be at the heart of the inquiry which has been launched by the Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee. The committee announced that it would be the first to move outside Edinburgh, taking evidence in Inverness on October 20.
John Swinney, the SNP's deputy leader, who chairs the committee, said: "For some time there has been concern over potential duplication by organisations such as local enterprise companies, local authorities, enterprise trusts and chambers of commerce.
"This is a concern shared by the committee and the primary objective of our inquiry will be to investigate whether there is scope for better co-ordination or even rationalisation of these bodies."
The committee expects to make its final report to Parliament next spring.
Mr McLeish's remarks will be seen as a steer in that direction. They come at a time when he and his Executive colleagues have to take key decisions on the education and training of 16 to 18-year-olds, training for work and student funding. He will also have on his agenda the revamp of post-16 education and training south of the border. This will bring together further education and workplace training under a national learning and skills agency.
The English approach virtually mirrors the model pioneered in Fife through the Fast Track project which combines college and employer training. As a Fife MSP, Mr McLeish can be expected to take a keen interest in a project which is being strongly touted as a model for the rest of Scotland.
Fife is also stealing a march on the rest of the country by working up a region-wide "community plan", under the Fife Economic Forum, which will include strategies for economic development as well as learning and skills.
Ian McLachlan, director of company development for Fife Enterprise, said the aim was "to get right down to the practical level of who delivers what to ensure there is a rational and transparent delivery of services for the benefit of our clients, whether they be businesses or individuals".