Links in anti-poverty policy;Briefing;Analysis

8th May 1998 at 01:00
What about the bigger picture? Over the medium to long term, what does a Labour government hope to achieve - and how does education and training fit in?

It's still too early to tell how history will judge Tony Blair's administration; but it is becoming much clearer as to how it would like to be judged, and what the yardsticks for measuring its achievements will be.

Perhaps the over-riding goal, if we are to believe New Labour strategists, is to tackle the effects of social exclusion. While sceptics regard the phrase as little more than a soundbite, the signs are that it could come to define Blairism in much the same way as privatisation became synonymous with Thatcherism.

The engine driving the new policy is the social exclusion unit, set up last summer by the Minister without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson. Its brief is to look at strategies for tackling the combined effects of unemployment, lack of skills, low incomes, poor housing, crime, bad health and family breakdown on individual opportunity.

The unit has been working on three reports, including one on the effects of truancy and school exclusion. This potentially seminal report is now on Tony Blair's desk and expected to be published shortly.

But possibly more important is how this initiative will, in the longer term, mesh with action zones. As well as 100 planned education action zones, the Government is setting up zones to tackle disadvantage in the fields of health and employment. According to Government sources, at least one of the first tranche of education action zones is likely to be tied in with health and employment zones.

The zones are intended to encourage innovation and bring improved opportunities to deprived families and their children. If they are successful, they are likely to become a potential rival to local authorities.

Alternatively, councils which show a willingness to innovate and adapt could become influential in their development, thus increasing their leverage in the debate over local government's future. This ties in with the Government's other main goal - to modernise political and government structures, partly through devolution and the setting up of regional development agencies.

The future of training programmes - and training and enterprise councils - is also up for grabs. Big decisions have yet to be taken over the balance between the public and the private sector. But innovation, and willingness to change to help the Government meet its goals, will be the watchwords.

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