Trade union leaders have been given top roles on government education and training committees for the first time in 18 years.
Rodney Bickerstaff, general secretary of the biggest public-sector blue-collar union, Unison, and Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, have been recruited. They are to work alongside Sir Peter Davis, Prudential Group chief executive, on the Government's task force for the so-called New Deal for the long-term unemployed.
Bob Fryer, chair of the Government's advisory committee for the forthcoming White Paper on Lifelong Learning is understood to be co-opting top trade unionists involved in workplace training to help shape the ideas.
The trade unionists insist this is not a return to the days of beer and sandwiches at Number 10, but a recognition of their new image, which the Conservatives failed to exploit for the past 15 years.
In that time Unison has developed unprecedented links with employers and individuals to promote learning in the workplace, for leisure and personal fulfilment as well as career development.
It runs a Return to Learn programme with 50 public-sector employers and won a national award for its work in Adult Learners Week in May. The union has its own Open College, which recruits around 5,000 students a year.
The new task group announced this week to advise on the New Deal also has strong representation for further and adult education.
The full membership of the task force is: Sir Peter Davis, chairman (group chief executive, Prudential); Shami Ahmed (Joe Bloggs Jeans Ltd); Christopher Haskins (chairman, Northern Foods plc); Ian McAllister (chairman, Ford UK); Stephanie Monk (group human resources director, Granada Group plc); John Roberts, (chief executive, the Post Office and member of TEC Assessors Committee); Michael Wemms (managing director, Operations, Tesco plc); Rodney Bickerstaff; Bill Morris; Sir John Harman (leader of Kirklees Metropolitan Council); Jenny Shackleton (principal, Wirral Metropolitan College); Helen Edwards (chief executive, NACRO); Tom Shebbeare (director, Prince's Trust); Dr Alison Millward (chair, Groundwork Black Country); Victor Adebowale (chief executive, Centrepoint).
The chairmen of the task forces for Scotland and Northern Ireland are: Ian Robinson, chief executive of Scottish Power, and William McGinnis, chairman of Sperrin Metal Products. The Welsh chairman has still to be named.