Fountain Lodge sits on a roundabout just outside South Shields. It's a prime location for a hotel-cum-restaurant, near local housing and next to a large business park. This is a new pound;3 million venture, launched less than a year ago by an Asian businessman, Ravi Dhugga.
His operations manager, Ravi Mohandra, says: "We expect to do well here." His early career was spent with MacDonald's, the fast food giant. While he doesn't intend to re-create its menus, he wants a working atmosphere in which staff have clear routines and wants to avoid using casuals if possible.
"We run a fully-flex system," he says. "Staff are guaranteed 16 hours a week but during busy periods they could be working full time." Chefs, restaurant and bar staff, cleaners and receptionists have been trained from Day One. All 40 employees have started NVQ programmes, 12 of them taking Foundation Modern Apprenticeships.
The training company is B-Skill, a private operation offering occupational training - "Hotel and catering, customer service, retail, IT, Basic Skills, vehicle valeting, security, a wide range," says B-Skill's director Glenise Burrell. The firm will handle Fountain Lodge's future recruitment needs andBurrell thinks the future looks promising for her usiness. Part of that confidence is built on her expectations of the changed funding map that will follow the launch of the learning and skills councils. FE-delivered vocational training is funded by the Futher Education Funding Council, while private providers are funded by the training and enterprise councils. It is recognised that the two funding routes have produced what one training council chief executive described as "anomalies". The LSC funding framework brings both routes under a single umbrella and current proposals assume there will be some levelling out.
"At the moment, FE is paid much more than the private sector to deliver exactly the same training," says Burrell. "A level playing field would allow us to compete much more effectively."
Predictably, however, FE colleges don't see things in the same way. College principals argue that private training providers often deliver tightly focused training stripped of the wider developmental education that colleges strive to include. And they all point to their overheads. But Glenise Burrell thinks they are missing the point.
"Employers want on-site training delivered at times convenient to their needs," she says. "Colleges can't deliver that."