THE SHAPE of education after the May elections is becoming clearer. The civil service knows how it wants to administer things. Muir Russell, the Permanent Secretary, has decided (page four) to separate education and industry, which were joined only a few years ago. Since the industry wing already has a substantial presence in Glasgow, that allows him to allocate the whole of the new department to the city, thus fulfilling the hope that administration can be devolved from Edinburgh.
Normally the organisation of departments follows prime ministerial decision. If a Cabinet minister is given responsibility for two areas, administrative joinery follows. Although no one knows who will do what in Scottish government after May 6, Mr Russell can hardly be accused of pre-empting ministerial prerogative. Such is the limited range of devolved functions that no minister would be asked to take on both education and industry.
Indeed it is still possible that education could itself be divided. There is a case for a children's ministry bringing together care and education for the under-16s. Post-compulsory education could then fall to a different portfolio, and take training with it. The link between industry and education was made partly to plan training alongside further education. Now despite the emphasis on the training component to the New Deal, it looks from Mr Muir's statement as if valuable links will be broken.
MSPs will have their say when subject committees are set up, with powers to propose legislation and scrutinise Government plans as well as to grill ministers and officials. Inevitably the range of backbench committees will reflect the division of ministerial powers. But assuming that training is administratively divorced from education, MSPs in committee would want reassurance that links on the ground are maintained. Civil service departmentalism will be a powerful force and it cannot be allowed to jeopardise relations among colleges, training organisations, employers and young people.