Fraud runs through it;Review of the week;Books;FE Focus

26th February 1999 at 00:00
"New Institutional Spaces, Training and Enterprise Councils and the Remaking of Economic Governance", by Martin Jones, Jessica Kingsley pound;27.50, ISBN1 85302 598 4.

FORGET the title. Arguments about institutional spaces relate to internecine disputes among economic geographers, covered in the first two chapters. Then, with chapters such as "TEC the money and run", the author tells "The Tale of the TECs" in the best of a very short list of books to trace the decline and fall of traditional training in the UK.

The succession of make-work training schemes it records culminate in the latest New Deal. This, Jones declares, "has fraud written all through it like a stick of rock . . . It is not about job creation through up-skilling but about 'employability', matching benefit claimants to the existing jobs as quickly as possible".

This is a history also of the rise and rise of what Tony Blair used to call "The Quango State". For, in 1988, the mother of all quangos, the Manpower Services Commission, was dissolved into the employer-led training and enterprise councils. Since then, Jones reveals how the amount spent by employers on training has nearly halved. This makes sense because Jones sees the establishment of the TECs on a North American model as more to do with detracting from democratic local government and introducing US-style "workfare" than with vocational education.

Writing this on the day the Welfare Reform Bill is published, it is hard to disagree with him.

The book highlights the part TECs played in this process of "creeping workfare" and quangoisation, with a wealth of statistics as well as detailed case studies of five contrasted TECs. Most supportive of its case, however, are brilliantly-chosen quotes from anonymous civil servants, ex-ministers and others. Their often cynical, sometimes despairing, comments illustrate his thesis that, as a former official from the Confederation of British Industry admits: "Tory training policy was based on bringing in the employers and throwing out the unions and any opposition to a flexible labour market."

This policy is now being consolidated by New Labour, although the future of the TECs themselves is uncertain. Most likely they will end up under the umbrella of the new regional development agencies. The RDA prototype is to be found in the Scottish and Welsh development agencies with "their business-led boards accountable first to ministers and only second to the regions they serve". RDAs will therefore, Jones predicts, "merely replicate the TEC formula at a different spatial scale". This will lead to "warfare" and "gazumping" between regions to gain employment benefits - provided central government devolves any real power to them in the first place.

Jones advocates a return to a training levy on employers plus democratically-controlled economic investment to which education and training can then contribute. This unfashionable formula is offered as part of a prescription to reverse the final dismemberment of the welfare state by the party that introduced it.

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