Give us a level playing field

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Graham Hoyle (Viewpoint, 21 October) is skilful in espousing the cause of his Association of Learning Provider members, while patronising colleges and putting pressure on the Department for Education and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council. He should know that I and many other principals are happy to "contest" in an informed market with the good independent providers that exist. However, the Employer Training Pilot has not been a happy experience for some of us.

Graham quotes the proportion of delivery that ended up with independent providers. Perhaps he is not aware that the majority of colleges were not allowed to take part because the pilots were outside their own LSC area, while independent providers were welcomed from all over the country; of college training associates and sub-contractors transformed by ETP brokers into new independent providers; of providers with poor inspection reports suddenly welcomed with open arms into ETP to help meet targets; of brokers from the private sector with an antipathy to colleges; of employer training needs identified by college staff being contracted to independent providers after the broker insisted on a "beauty parade".

I believe colleges would be happy to see the market opened up if the restrictions placed on our entrepreneurial activity are applied equally to all; if independent providers are companies limited by guarantee whose profits from taxpayers' money for training are reinvested for public benefit, rather than taken into private hands; and if all providers have a commitment to employers rather than cherry-picking the most profitable provision before moving on.

Colleges have a good track record of responding to genuine demand while remaining rooted in their communities. Ironically, the price of our success has often caused the DfES problems as the demand we have generated outstrips the funding to support it - a scenario Graham rightly fears but for the wrong reasons.

George Bright


Wiltshire college

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