Mayor gets his way over pound;1bn

9th December 2005 at 00:00
Joe Clancy looks at plans to give Ken Livingstone more control of FE in London

Ken Livingstone is to be handed a greater say over further education in London under government proposals to extend the mayor's powers.

Four options - all of which would give him greater influence over the capital's pound;1.2 billion FE budget - have been put forward in a consultation document.

One option would involve the five local learning and skills councils in London being merged and reporting to the mayor, effectively ending the national LSC's control in the capital. The remaining three give him a bigger say than at present.

The options are being offered by John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister, as part of a consultation exercise on the future of London FE, which closes on February 22, 2006. Ministers are expected to agree a final package of proposals in the spring.

Handing direct control to the mayor would end the LSC's monopoly on government funding of colleges. The LSC, Britain's biggest-spending quango, works through nine regional offices.

Mr Livingstone said: "The LSC, as currently set up, is unaccountable to Londoners and has failed to deliver for either the unskilled or employers, despite spending around pound;1bn a year.

"I want to see the current confusion replaced with a single body that will focus on London's specific training needs, and that should be accountable to the people of London via their elected mayor."

In defence of his own track record, he cited a number of Greater London Authority initiatives, which he claims have already improved life for Londoners, including improved bus services, more police and the congestion charge.

David Miliband, minister for local government, said he supports the GLA's bid to increase its powers.

He said: "We believe the GLA has proved its worth. We are opening the door to significant decentralisation of powers from Whitehall, while ensuring the GLA remains a focused and strategic authority."

David Hughes, the LSC's regional director for London, said: "We remain to be convinced of the benefits of Mr Livingstone's preferred option to devolve responsibility of the LSC in London to the mayor's office."

He said he welcomes the mayor's interest in skills and has no objection to Mr Livingstone's influence being increased.

"We are keen to involve the mayor and believe his contribution would enhance the impact that we are having on skill levels in the capital.

"There are massive challenges and opportunities for London, with more jobs needing higher level skills, and more people with no or low qualifications, with the additional challenge of the Olympics.

"To be able to meet with the mayor on a regular basis to make sure our skills and training plans align with his development plans would be fantastic for learners and fantastic for London."

Asked by FE Focus if other regional development agencies would also want to take control of funding from the LSC, Mr Miliband said: "There is a discussion to be had about how you align the regional economic agenda with the regional skills agenda.

"It is a question of whether the constitutional change would be worth it in terms of the benefit."

Mr Livingstone has said he does not want to take over sixth-form provision.

The GLA refused to say whether this extended to 16-19 in general FE colleges and sixth-form colleges. The four options for giving the mayor a greater say over learning and skills in London are :

* A stronger regional partnership, making more of the mayor's role on the regional skills partnership.

* Strengthening of the mayor's role in the LSC. A new regional board would be set up, on which the GLA would be represented.

* An enhanced leadership role for the mayor on skills in London, under which the LSC would consult the mayor and ensure his priorities are reflected in the allocation of funds.

* The mayor's preferred option of rationalising the five London LSCs into one organisation accountable to him.

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