Less must mean more at the local skills level

4th November 2005 at 00:00
Six weeks ago, I set out in FE Focus ("Upbeat about downsizing", September 23) how we've embarked on a major transformation programme to make the Learning and Skills Council smaller and more dynamic.

Now, I can report on progress and explain how new plans to achieve better quality and more consistent delivery figure powerfully in our changes.

When I joined the LSC some two years ago, I realised that where we make our most significant contribution is locally. After all, that's where change really happens. The way forward for the LSC is significantly to improve what we do on the ground - ensuring consistency nationwide in terms of quality and relevance of provision for local communities and employers.

On Monday, we announced our intention to create 148 local LSC partnership teams to provide a network of experienced education and training professionals to work with key partners and stakeholders to tackle local learning and skills needs. They will ensure that properly-funded local learning and training is relevant and delivered quickly.

Our partnership teams will know their patch inside out - enabling them to lead and support the 14-19 agenda, personal and community development, and ensure national and regional skills needs are met.

These new teams will develop strategic relationships with colleges, schools and training providers and with stakeholders such as local authorities, children's trusts and local MPs. They will negotiate development plans and contracts with providers, review performance and develop quality improvement plans.

These partnership specialists will work alongside a new LSC network of local economic development teams, which will focus on skills for employers and regeneration. There will be 35 of these, and with the local partnership teams, this will mean up to a third of LSC staff - some 1,264 people - will be working locally.

We have already announced the creation of our nine regional centres, which will run operational services such as finance and marketing, to support local teams and build stronger links with partners such as the regional development agencies, the new network of sector skills councils and regional skills partnerships. Some 1,474 staff will be employed in regional centres.

These changes mean that the vast majority of our staff will focus on the front line through strategic relationships at the local and regional level.

We will also have a smaller national office, roughly half the current size, which will concentrate on supporting regional and local work, providing expertise such as legal services and clear frameworks to ensure consistency without restricting local or regional flexibility.

The 646 staff employed at the national office after this transformation will manage our relationships with national stakeholders and establish "light touch" national policy, informed by local experience, for our working relationship with providers.

Under these proposals, our 47 local councils, made up of non-executives appointed from the local community, will remain and be supported by one or more of the local partnership teams. This will ensure that the LSC's non-executive teams will play an even stronger part in the organisation at national, regional and local levels. Each local council will also have a dedicated director and will be responsible for developing and overseeing a local plan.

These changes represent our commitment to Agenda for Change, the major transformation programme we are leading across the learning and skills sector.

This will bring about significant improvements - from increased collaboration to the simplification of systems and processes. The result will be better-quality training and better value for the taxpayer.

We have never pretended that Agenda for Change would be anything other than radical, nor that the LSC itself would be exempt. We have already acknowledged the uncertainty this will create among staff. The proposed reorganisation will see jobs reduced from around 4,700 to about 3,400.

Savings of up to pound;40 million could be realised, which would benefit 80,000 adults or 12,000 young learners.

There is more fleshing out to do of the detail of our proposals at each level of operation and the next few months will see further work and consultation with staff, non-executives, partner organisations and the trade union.

Further announcements will be made once these discussions have concluded.

Mark Haysom is chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council

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