Hayes 'a hard act to follow' for new FE minister

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Hancock shuffles into role, but some in the sector are 'gutted'

The FE sector was shocked to learn this week that it would be getting a new government minister. The news broke when the 10 Downing Street Twitter feed revealed that John Hayes would be taking up a new position as a minister of state at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

He will be replaced by Matthew Hancock (pictured), who has been appointed to the position of parliamentary under secretary, with a dual role at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

While Mr Hancock has been given a more junior title than Mr Hayes, a BIS spokesman confirmed that the West Suffolk MP would be assuming responsibility for the FE, skills and lifelong learning sector.

Having only been an MP since the 2010 election, Mr Hancock is an unknown quantity for many in FE. The 33-year-old said he was "delighted" with his appointment.

"I grew up in a small business. I passionately believe in the importance of turning around our economy, helping businesses create jobs, and improving skills and apprenticeships," he said. "It is a huge honour to serve in government as well as serving my constituents in West Suffolk. I'll give it my all."

Mr Hancock certainly has big shoes to fill. Irrespective of whether they agreed with his policies, Mr Hayes' unique brand of oratory, sprinkled liberally with literary quotations, and his clear passion for FE, particular for the apprenticeship programme, won him many admirers.

Shane Chowen, the Institute for Learning's policy officer, tweeted that he was "gutted", while David Hughes, chief executive of adult learning body Niace, paid tribute to Mr Hayes for his "commitment to proper adult education, an expansive view of learning and entertaining meetings".

Shadow FE minister Gordon Marsden was quick to acknowledge the esteem in which he holds his former adversary. "The departure of John Hayes will be a significant loss for the FE sector and the government, because of his good understanding of the area, and because of the gusto and personal warmth and his clear enthusiasm for the job," he told TES. "He will be a very hard act for his successor to follow."

Mr Marsden also said the move raised doubts about the implementation of the controversial FE loans programme, as well as the recently announced proposal for an FE Guild, which has been personally championed by Mr Hayes.

The Association of Colleges' chief executive, Martin Doel, said the organisation was "sad to lose such a passionate and effective advocate for FE colleges". "We hope that Matthew Hancock will continue the (government's) recognition of the benefits that have come from new freedoms and flexibilities that have been championed," he added.

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