Labour plans to double the amount spent on improving adults' basic skills, reports Ian Nash
David Blunkett will spearhead the biggest-ever assault on adult illiteracy in the UK with the launch of a pound;750 million campaign this summer.
The cash, to be targeted at "local learning partnerships" from education and industry, will more than double the pound;300m currently spent over the year by government and education agencies to help the seven million adults with literacy and numeracy problems.
The cost to industry from the lack of skills such as reading and arithmetic has escalated in recent years. The Government's Basic Skills Agency estimates an annual drain of pound;4.8 billion through lost production and spending on retraining programmes.
A call for the Government to take urgent action came last month in the report of an official inquiry into basic adult skills, chaired by Sir Claus Moser, chairman of the BSA.
Sir Claus described his findings as "staggering, indeed shocking" and called for a "national crusade and an increase of pound;600m in Government budgets - in addition to what is already spent.
While the Education Secretary's commitment falls short of that demand, it is considerably more than the most optimistic of critics expected.
Mr Blunkett will also announce an "implementation committee" to oversee spending of the pound;750m and carry out key recommendations from the inquiry.
It will be expected also to tackle further issues that the committee was unable to address: the wider crisis in basic skills shortages and the need for more adults to learn a second language to benefit the increasingly global economy.
The implementation group will shadow a powerful ministerial group, to be headed by Baroness Blackstone, further and higher education minister - underlining the seriousness with which ministers view this campaign. Adult education agencies will be expected to draw up action plans in their bid for funds, showing how they are to work in partnership with others.
Ministers are also considering the introduction of a "core curriculum" for adults seeking help with literacy and numeracy problems. Schools and colleges will be expected to act as "outreach centres" to support industry and community-based initiatives.
The University for Industry will be asked to design and commission the necessary learning materials for an expanded adult learning basic skills curriculum.
Bob Fryer, chair of the earlier Government inquiry into lifelong learning, which led to the Green Paper, has been seconded to the UFI just months after being appointed vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton New College.
The main thrust of the Government initiative is likely to be aimed at the estimated 6 million people in work who have moderate skills deficiencies and a further one million with deep-seated difficulties. The deeper problems of illiteracy and innumeracy will take longer. The implementation group will be asked to explore new strategies.
A Government source told The TES: "When this (pound;750m programme) is announced it will constitute the biggest assault by any government on the literacy problems of adults. It is an ambitious programme that no other country has managed to implement. It will more than double the money currently spent."
People invited to join the committee will include Nick Tate, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority; David Melville, chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council; Anne Wright, director of the UFI; Alan Wells, chief executive of the BSA; and Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.
It will be chaired by Derek Grover, director of skills and lifelong learning at the Department for Education and Employment.