Tony Blair and Gordon Brown jointly decided to scrap the lifelong learning White Paper and go back to the drawing board, senior Government sources confirmed this week.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer were appalled by a lack of coherence, the lack of rigour when dealing with standards to be set and the open-ended costs of further education expansion.
One senior official told The TES: "The decision was taken by No 10 and No 11. They wanted a paper of some coherence and were not getting it. Also, the commitment to 500,000 more further education students would add hundreds of millions of pounds to costs next year."
Efforts to present the scrapping of the long-awaited White Paper as a mere postponement of consultations until the end of the month backfired on ministers this week.
Angry organisers of national and regional conferences timed to debate the contents were left high and dry. And a consortium of colleges and private training providers, set to launch a Government-backed video on the paper, were not even told the event was cancelled.
It also emerged this week that the work done on the paper was completely out of line with Mr Blair's own views, another senior source on a Government taskforce said. "He (Mr Blair) said there was too much about trying to change the culture of training in Britain and not enough about standards and exams. "
The decision to scrap the White Paper and go for lower-status consultations threatens to cause a deep rift within the Labour party, particularly in local authorities which want no watering down of policies to promote post-16 education and training.
In an extraordinary twist this week, Kim Howells, the minister in charge of the consultations, denied that there was ever a White Paper for publication this week. In a letter to The TES, he says: "The first and only date announced for publication was when I announced the 25th February last week."
But this is not how almost everyone else in the sector and other parts of the Labour Government saw things. Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, said: "No one had any doubt that a White Paper was promised this week."
Comment, page 20. Letters, page 24. FE Focus, page 29