THE Government this week pledged pound;50 million to encourage local partnerships to provide one-stop information, advice and guidance services for adult learners.
The money, to be spent over the next three years, will enable careers services, training and enterprise councils, colleges, the Employment Service, voluntary organisations and local authorities to develop a comprehensive network. The Government is also seeking views on the development of the network.
Baroness Blackstone, education and employment minister, said: "I hope that the principle of having all the agencies concerned with training, education and employment in one place will be emulated round the country so that it becomes a simple matter for anyone, anywhere, to find out how to start and continue lifelong learning."
The Government has already announced that it wants to increase the number of people involved in further education by 700,000 by 2002. The expansion will be concentrated on adults who have previously not participated in post-school learning. This will intensify the demand for high-quality advice and guidance on what is right for them, says the consultation paper.
Learning Direct, the national telephone helpline was contacted by more than 340,000 people during its first six months of operation. The plan is to extend the service through the University for Industry to be able to handle 1.5 million calls annually.
From April the Government intends to work with partnerships to bring about significant improvements in the quality and coverage of local services. It says it has no desire to impose a uniform model.
Guidance interviews are already available free of charge to unemployed adults. The Government wants a comprehensive range of services for adults but says "for the majority of adults in employment, however, we do not believe there is a compelling case for such services to be universally supported out of public funds".
The paper warns that competition between different local agencies should be avoided where that might detract from the quality of service available and threatens: "Public money may be withheld from areas where there is scant evidence of an effective partnership approach."
In the interests of fostering partnerships the Government is considering contracts with just one body in each area to deliver local services. That entity might include a lead body, but it would need to demonstrate significant involvement by relevant statutory and other local agencies, with clearly specified arrangements for the division of responsibilities and resources between them.