While the Scottish Executive is mulling over what to do about the UK Leitch review on skills, Westminster has decided to give English colleges and employers the right to create their own qualifications without reference to awarding bodies.
The qualifications will be overseen by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in England. The scheme will be introduced on a trial basis with the intention of extending it nationally if there are no major hitches.
The move has been long called-for by colleges and recognises the fact that some companies are already offering quality training which is not recognised by the state.
Previously, public funding was largely restricted to courses which led to qualifications drawn up by QCA-approved awarding bodies including City Guilds.
The new qualifications are part of a raft of measures announced last week in the Government's response to the Leitch review.
Ministers said the new qualifications reflected a drive towards self regulation for the FE sector.
A new employability skills programme for people on benefit will be launched allowing them to qualify for certification which proves their vocational skills. It is expected 15,000 people will be on the programme in the first year.
Also, a "skills account" scheme to put spending power in the hands of potential adult students will be set up. This comes five years after the closure of the ill-fated Individual Learning Accounts, which were discredited after widespread abuse by fraudsters and bogus training outfits. On opening an account, adults will also get access to a new "universal adult careers service".
Other Leitch recommendations to be implemented, confined to England so far, include a Commis-sion on Employment and Skills, to increase the involvement of employers. There is also a commitment to encourage employers to invest more in skills at all levels with the possibility of levies if agreed by industry sectors.
There could be an entitlement to workplace training up to level 2 (GCSE and Standard grade-equivalent) if there has not been sufficient progress in this area by 2010.
Private training providers protested that ministers have watered down Leitch's position on putting employers in the driving seat through a "demand- led" system.
Leitch had said adult skills should be fully "demand-led" by 2010 but the response from ministers is that such rapid change would be too risky for colleges. Instead, the Government wants to move towards a demand-led system without the pressure of the Leitch-proposed deadline.
The Association of Learning Providers, which represents vocational training organisations south of the border, and whose members are largely businesses, says it is baffled by the Government's risk-averse approach. Graham Hoyle, chief executive, said: "We have the capacity to meet expanded demand, so why not let us get on with delivering it? If some pro-viders are not ready to respond to Leitch's blueprint for adult skills, there are others who are."
John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "Colleges would like to see stronger mechanisms to unleash employer investment in training.
Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, said: "This report is something of a relief. We were concerned that adult learn-ing might be subsumed in an employer-led strategy".
Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Sec-retary for Education and Lifelong Learning north of the border, has pledged "a Scottish strategy for Scotland's distinctive needs".
Lord Leitch's review was addressed to all the UK governments and warned that Britain had to "raise its game" at all skill levels if it was to achieve a world-class skills base by 2020.
English colleges and employers are given the go-ahead to create their own qualifications on a trial basis