Public bodies look set to merge to save millions

1st February 2008 at 00:00
Alex Salmond wants to streamline services and cut the number of quangos.

The Scottish Government is considering the merger of Learning and Teaching Scotland, its school curriculum agency, with the new Skills Development Scotland.

The proposal emerged following a statement to parliament on Wednesday by Alex Salmond, the First Minister. The move is part of a cherished ambition of his administration - to slash the number of public bodies in Scotland and streamline services in order to make "efficiency savings" of pound;25 million.

Mr Salmond's statement does not actually refer to LTS, although it does mention the combination of learndirect scotland and Careers Scotland into the new skills body, which comes into force officially on April 1. A supporting statement from the Government is scarcely more informative, stating simply that it will "examine the role of organisations such as Learning and Teaching Scotland".

The agency has been under the microscope since the Howat report was published last summer. It urged LTS and the Scottish Qualifications Authority to be put on a more "commercial footing", which it suggested could save an estimated pound;22 million.

Although the latest initiative on "simplifying public services" is partly about cost-cutting, government sources also point to the synergy between LTS and the wider skills agenda. Launching the skills strategy for Scotland last September, Fiona Hyslop, the Education and Lifelong Learning Secretary, heralded her wish to "provide clarity and simplicity in skills provision in Scotland by bringing focus to the range of public agencies involved in skills and lifelong learning".

The skills document itself makes it clear that "firm foundations for skills development in young people" - hitherto the preserve of LTS - is the essential starting point for the new agenda.

Ministers are believed to take the view that local councils can take on many of the activities of LTS, particularly as they become more adept at self-evaluation and quality assurance.

LTS did not comment this week, but Bernard McLeary, its chief executive, said in an interview with The TESS last October that they would increasingly have to focus on the lifelong learning agenda. It has also been working much more closely with the education authorities, and ministers now see many areas of potential overlap.

The news comes as LTS released the findings of an independent survey which showed that 91 per cent of education professionals believe it has a positive impact on education. This makes it "one of the top-performing public sector bodies in the UK".


Alex Salmond's announcement also heralded a major change for the General Teaching Council for Scotland. It is to become a "self-regulating, profession-led body," along the lines of the General Medical Council. This would make it completely separate from government, a move welcomed by Matthew MacIver, its registrar, who said it would make the council "the first fully independent teaching regulator in the world".

He added: "It will enhance yet further the status of the teaching profession in Scotland, while also endorsing the status of the GTCS."

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